What they want is a strengthened PDS run by self-help groups, not backed by politicians

A survey has shown that majority of slum women do not want cash transfers or smart cards system for procuring subsidised foodgrains under the public distribution system (PDS). They prefer a strengthened PDS that functions well, preferably run by self-help groups or cooperatives rather than owned by front-men of politicians.

“Introduction of cash transfers or smart cards is a move to restrict the number of below povertyline population in the PDS. When we were hoping for a universal PDS system under the proposed National Food Security Act, this seems like a move towards privatisation and end of the minimum support price to farmers,” representatives of the Ration Vyvastha Sudhar Abhiyan along with the Right to Food Campaign, Bhalswa Lok Shakti Manch, Jagori, Chintan, Parivartan, Association for Social Justice and Research and the Centre for Advocacy and Research said here on Thursday.

Giving the example of the Delhi government's pilot project to introduce cash-transfer system in PDS, they said: “The plan must be halted now and here as what Delhi introduces is replicated in the country.”

Not taken into confidence

What has irked these women is that majority of the beneficiaries were not taken into confidence or informed about the drastic change that was introduced in the presence of the United Nations Development Programme officials (as conveyed through an RTI application). “We are told that SEWA-Bharat [Self-employed Women's Association] conducted a survey amongst 150 PDS beneficiaries in a colony in west Delhi for the Delhi government and said they were okay with cash transfers.”

Addressing a press conference here, they said: “We decided to do a larger survey in 14 areas of Delhi, amongst nearly 600 beneficiaries, and came up with the core finding that people prefer rations than cash in hand. At least this way we can eat something with chutney and do not have to buy from the market,” said Santosh.

Cancellation of ration cards

She said that already the Delhi government had cancelled 1.72 lakh ration cards in 2008. “In August 2010, another 65,000 ration cards were cancelled in the name of providing new biometric cards, but that has not happened. Systematically we, the slum dwellers and rehabilitated people, who were moved away from our hutments during the Commonwealth games, are being pushed out of the system. If the systems were working well in rural India, why would we come to cities? Everybody wants a life of dignity,” she said.

Reena, a widow, said she had an Antyodaya Anna Yojna card. “When I applied for a change of the name of the head of the family after my husband died last year, I found that they had cancelled my card.”

Survey

Quoting from their survey of a sample of 593 ration card holders, Bimla, Sarla and Santosh said 99 per cent women wanted “rations, not cash” in their hands as they feared that cash would get spent on priority or an immediate need of the moment, be it for a health emergency or a celebration, if not on liquor etc. The survey was carried out in 14 areas of East, South, North-East and North-West Delhi.

Deepa Sinha, a member of the Right to Food Campaign, pointed out that cash transfer would not solve the problems besieging the PDS, nor ensure food security in a country where 70 per cent women suffered from anaemia and every second child was malnourished. “It will not protect the poor from inflation and will be difficult to implement in the absence of a wide network of banks in rural areas.”

Unaware of cash transfer

The survey revealed that most respondents were unaware of the cash transfer scheme. When told about it, most opposed it. About 84 per cent felt that inflation would soon reduce the value of cash and experience had shown that no revision takes place or takes place after long years, as in the revision of pension.

Also, most women said that they had no control over the manner in which money was spent in a household and more often than not, cash was spent on immediate needs, not necessarily on foodgrains. That decision was taken by a male member — be it a father, husband or a son.

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