COVID-19 | ‘Give free ration to all using indelible ink marker’

New e-coupon system for those without cards is impractical: food rights activists

Updated - April 08, 2020 09:59 am IST

Published - April 07, 2020 11:14 pm IST - NEW DELHI

People line up to collect ration at Motilal Nehru Camp, Munirka in the Capital on Tuesday.

People line up to collect ration at Motilal Nehru Camp, Munirka in the Capital on Tuesday.

Anita Tiwari is used to paying for her food with her own earnings: ₹8,000 per month from the domestic work she does in three homes, along with the ₹5,000 per month her husband earns as a security guard. However, the COVID-19 lockdown has left her struggling to feed her family.

“We don’t have any ration card because our landlord is not willing to let us use that address,” says the 50-year old resident of Savitri Nagar, a low-income area in Sheikh Sarai. Her problem is common to many people renting homes in Delhi’s bastis and unauthorised colonies, resulting in lakhs of people deprived of a ration card. “One of my employers says she will pay me half month’s rent, but I can’t even go and get it because of this lockdown. The others won’t pay because I’m not working. How will we eat?”

On Tuesday, right to food activists wrote to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to reiterate their demand that provide free rations for all, telling him that the Delhi government’s system to provide food for those without ration cards are too “unwieldy and impractical” for many like Ms. Tiwari.

Complicated process

“The system requires those without ration cards to apply for an e-coupon using a website to register themselves for accessing rations. They need to have the ability to access the Internet, have a mobile phone to generate an OTP, upload a photo of their Aadhaar card and a photo of their family, and finally, download the e-coupon. At a time when mobility is restricted, it cannot be assumed that everyone will manage to reach civil society or government volunteers who can help them fill the forms,” said the letter, signed by activists of the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan.

They added that another complication is that foodgrain for those without ration cards are being distributed at government schools rather than the Fair Price Shops which are better equipped to do it. They asked the government to instead give free rations to everyone who demands it, using a simple mechanism such as marking a designated nail with indelible ink, as in elections, to ensure that people do not take rations multiple times from different shops. “In the current emergency situation, an elaborate system which people would find difficult even during ordinary times, will make rations inaccessible to the poorest and most marginalised who need it the most,” they said.

Call for transparency

In an earlier letter, the activists also demanded better transparency and accountability from the Public Distribution System (PDS), noting that almost a third of ration shops checked in the first week of April were shut, with several claiming they do not have stock.

Parmila, a mother of four who lives in Motilal Nehru Camp, a basti near Munirka, has been turned away from her ration shop several times this week. “I have recieved the wheat ration promised by the Delhi government, but the shopkeeper says he has not yet recieved my rice or sugar ration,” she says.

However, an online search shows that rice and sugar due to her were delivered at the ration shop on March 23 and 24. She has also not received the extra free ration promised by the Centre. “Since my husband is a daily wage labourer and I am a domestic worker, neither of us have received wages since the bandh. Without the extra ration, the family will go hungry,” she says.

Reena and Sunil Kumar, who live in Mongolpuri, have not even got their wheat ration for the month. “The shopkeeper claims the rice ration has not yet arrived at the shop, so he will wait and give us both together,” says Mr. Kumar, noting that his wife has been to the shop every day for the past five days. Again, the online record shows that all the grains due to the family have been delivered to the shop.

According to a Delhi government order dated March 26, ration stock for two months was to be delivered to all shops by March 29. Government data shows ration has been distributed to only 60% of cardholders even while many shops are claiming they have run out of stock. “This raises serious concerns about the possibility of diversion of grains,” said the letter to the CM from the activists, demanding full information disclosure and a robust grievance redressal mechanism to ensure that people are not cheated out of their ration allocation during this emergency.

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