Food security | National

People without ration cards left out of COVID-19 food safety net

People without ration cards have again been left out of the safety net provided by the second round of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), announced by the Centre on Friday to provide free food grains for 81 crore ration card holders in May and June.

Last year, the Aatmanirbhar scheme was announced to bridge that gap, and provided free food grain to more than 2.7 crore people without ration cards, out of an initial target of 8 crore people. Asked whether a similar scheme would be implemented this year, Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said that the ration card portability scheme and new enrolments under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) would help to mitigate the situation instead. However, Right to Food activists warn that a humanitarian crisis will erupt unless free food grain is also provided for the most vulnerable population who still do not have ration cards.

“Lots of State governments, ever since the One Nation One Ration Card scheme came, they included a lot of people who were not having ration card, using the Aadhaar enablement and biometric authentication,” Mr. Pandey told journalists on Saturday, in response to a query from The Hindu. “What it led to, for example in Rajasthan alone, [is that] more than 50 lakh people from December 2020 onwards were removed and equal number of persons have been added. Same thing has happened in U.P. and a similar thing in Bihar, which means that a lot of people who were earlier not having a ration card today possess ration card.” The Food Department said a total of ₹60.7 lakh additional people had got covered under the NFSA since last year.

“If there are 60 lakh new beneficiaries, that means less than 20 lakh additional ration cards, which is nothing in comparison to the large numbers still without ration cards,” said Dipa Sinha, a Right to Food activist and economist teaching at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She pointed out that simple population growth since the last census means that nine to ten crore additional people ought to be added, to meet NFSA norms. “Last year’s experience showed that there is a huge need that the Centre itself acknowledged by launching the Aatmanirhar scheme for those without ration cards. It was aimed at 8 crore people, and was used by more than 2.7 crore. What are all those people supposed to do now?” she asked, noting that the surge in COVID-19 infections also meant a spike in health and medicine costs for vulnerable populations.

In Delhi, for example, 71 lakh ration cards have been issued. However, during last year’s lockdown, an additional 60 lakh e-coupons had to be issued for those without ration cards to access free food grain given by the Delhi government, said Anjali Bhardwaj of the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan. “This shows the huge levels of food insecurity. The number of ration cards issued are totally inadequate and it is the most vulnerable population who don’t have the requisite documentation who fall out of this safety net,” she said. “Last year, the Aatmanirbhar scheme was brought in, and State governments came up with temporary solutions because of this. This time, the government has a moral obligation not to wait until the humanitarian crisis erupts,” she added.

Mr. Pandey suggested that since the One Nation One Ration Card scheme allowed for ration card portability, migrant workers who have ration cards back in their home villages would now be able to access free food grains at their work locations itself. However, activists pointed out that usage under the scheme has been low, especially since some States, including Delhi, still do not have the electronic point of sale machines needed to implement the scheme.

The Food Secretary also said the Centre was providing grain to States through the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) to allow them to provide additional support to their populations. “Under OMSS, States will have to buy grain at, say ₹25 per kg, and then subsidise them for the people,” noted Dr. Sinha. “The Centre has absolved itself of responsibility for those outside the NFSA net and put additional burdens on State finances even while their revenues have been falling,” she added.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 11:08:27 PM |

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