In a bizarre development, a Gujarat women's rights group working with backward sections, Shabri Sangathan, has been denied permission to hold a public meeting on the International Women's Day, March 8, to raise issues related with the failure of the state government to implement the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.
Talking with newspersons on the issues the NGO proposes to raise at the meeting, Paulomee Mistry, who heads Shabri, said, “The police denied us permission orally telling us that Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi would be in Gujarat on March 7-8. They advised us, therefore, to hold our meeting on March 10.”
She added, women are the most affected sections because of the “failure” to implement food security, one reason why the organization decided to highlight it on March 8.
“Why should we celebrate the International Women's Day on March 10?”, Mistry wondered, adding, “We had announced our decision to hold the meet at the historic Dandi Bridge in Ahmedabad quite some time back. However, a poor women's organization is not allowed as cops will be busy with Modi”.
“Women have been told to come to Ahmedabad for the meet from all over Gujarat. They will be here. We will hold our meeting at the spot designated for it. There is no question of taking back our decision”, she insisted.
Mistry regretted, though it is four years since the NFSA was passed, the state government began implementing the Act on April 1 as Maa Annapurna Yojna only after a Supreme Court rap in February last year. "Even today, the Act is not being implemented properly", she alleged.
Mistry said, “The state government has still not prepared a list of antyodaya families who should get food from the ration shops on a priority basis. Besides, while the ration shops, which often open once or twice a month, do offer rice at Rs 3 per kg, and wheat at Rs 2 per kg, they do not offer the staple food of large sections of villagers, the so-called coarse grain (bajri, jowar), which should be offered at Re 1 per kg.”
“Women, who usually go and buy foodgrains from ration shops, suffer the most”, Mistry contended, adding, “The ration shops charge Rs 10 as coupon fees before they buy up ration. Many of them must travel between 3 and 5 km to reach the shops.”
Elucidated Himant Shah, an economist present at the media conference, “The current norm is to have one ration card within one three kilometres of distance. However, there are 17,052 ration shops in Gujarat both in urban areas. Gujarat has about 18,400 villages. It means, large number of villages do not have ration card.”
“Worse”, he added, “There are just eight ration shops operating under panchayats in Gujarat, while Gujarat has about 13,700 village panchayats. Under the panchayats Act, all ration shops should be run by panchayats. As for the rest, 2,700 ration shops are run by cooperatives, while the rest of them are privately owned.”
“The problem of food security”, said Shah, “could be solved if 50 per cent of the panchayats, having women heads, are given the charge of allowing women panchayat members to run ration shops, as women are the main stakeholders in food security.”
Said gender expert Chinmayee Joshi, “Poor widows particularly suffer the most because of poor panchayat facilities. They must get pension, which is a paltry Rs 750 per month, to get ration. Many widows complained to us that they get just Rs 400 because of corruption.”
“In Gujarat”, she said, “There are 1.52 lakh single and widow women who should be getting the Rs 750 pension, which is proposed to be increased to Rs 1,000 November 1. However, the eligibility for it is to get a below poverty line (BPL) card, which many women do not have. The pension is not offered to mothers who have a son above 21 years old.”