Over 10 lakh applicants await ration cards in Delhi

A woman avails of free food grains using her ration card in New Delhi.

A woman avails of free food grains using her ration card in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: R.V. MOORTHY

Thirty-four-year-old Santosh, a domestic help and mother of two in Delhi, applied for a ration card in 2019 following the death of her husband. Three years and over 20 trips to government offices later, she is in a fix: there is no certainty when the document will be finally issued to her.

“I often can’t afford to buy milk and chicken for my children. Sometimes, we eat just roti and pickle,” says Ms. Santosh, who lives in a one-room house in Jagdamba Camp, a slum cluster in south Delhi.

Over 10.08 lakh persons in the Capital are facing the same predicament as their applications are still pending, according to data as of May 31 accessed by The Hindu.

The number of pending applications has increased by 50% in the past one year, the data show. At present, ration card holders in the city can secure up to 40 kg of food grains for free every month for their family.

Subsidised food grains are provided under the Central government’s Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) and a cap is set on the number of beneficiaries based on the population of each State. The Delhi government, which is yet to issue 3.1 lakh ration cards to applicants, has repeatedly urged the Centre to raise its limit of 72.77 lakh beneficiaries, officials say.

Struggle to survive

Ms. Santosh, who earns around ₹3,000 a month working as a help in two houses, says she is struggling to make ends meet amid a rise in food prices. Her only other source of income is the widow pension of ₹2,500.

She says if she gets a ration card, she can buy milk and meat more frequently for her children with her savings. “Whenever I visit the government office, I am told that my application is on the waiting list. I’m tired of going there,” she says.

Sushila Devi, 30, another resident of Jagdamba Camp, fishes out a shabby piece of paper from a worn-out plastic bag — the receipt of her ration card application from 2020.

Ms. Devi says her family is still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I earn about ₹5,000-₹6,000 a month working as a help in three houses. My husband is a daily wage worker. Since the pandemic, his wages have dropped,” she says.

Ms. Devi says they pay ₹3,000 per month as rent for their one-room house and cannot afford to provide milk every day for their three-year-old daughter.

“A hunger survey we conducted revealed that children were not getting sufficient quantities of milk or dal due to the effects of the pandemic,” says Anjali Bhardwaj, a food rights activist and member of the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyaan.

‘Start own scheme’

The Delhi government distributes food grains allocated by the Centre under the TPDS, but several States run their own ration distribution schemes, she says. Other States are also writing to the Centre to raise the cap on beneficiaries.

“If the Central government is not raising the cap, what is stopping the Delhi government from starting its own public distribution system and issuing ration cards?” Ms. Bhardwaj says.

The number of pending applications in Delhi, 10.08 lakh, is an underestimate as applications are declined in many cases citing the huge backlog, she says. “The Delhi government is not giving priority to resolve this problem. It is spending a lot of money on other projects such as installing national flags across the city to score political brownie points,” she says.

Currently, a new beneficiary is added when vacancies arise owing to the deletion of names in ration cards. Last year, there were only around 20,000 deletion of names, data show. At this rate, it will take 50 years for the 10.08 lakh people on the waiting list to be added as beneficiaries.

Officials say the Centre can raise the cap for Delhi only after the 2021 Census. “It will take at least two to three years for the cap to be raised after the new census,” says a government official.

No sign of hope

Samjhana Bisht, 26, the mother of a nine-month-old, says she applied for a ration card over a year ago. “I used to work as a house help before I had my child. My husband has been out of work for the past one year. Buying diapers itself costs around ₹500-₹600 a month. Getting a ration card would really help us,” she says.

Ms. Bisht says she has made multiple trips to the government office. “Last time, the officer showed me a stack of applications and said all of them are pending. He said he had no idea when I would get my ration card,” she says.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2022 2:55:51 am |