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Take-home rations not being distributed in Jharkhand's 64% anganwadis, 36% schools

By Our Representative
In a lockdown checkup, the Right to Food Campaign (Jharkhand) has found “gaping holes” in the state government’s relief measures during a quick survey of essential facilities in rural areas (ration shops, dal-bhat kendras, anganwadis, among others).
Conducted by members of the civil rights group during the first week of April 2020, the survey was conducted in 50 blocks in 19 districts, where people were asked to report their observations over the phone.
Claiming that the general picture is grim, as “very little public support is available to poor people at this time of crisis”, the survey results show that “only 18 out of 50 observers reported that take-home rations were being distributed in anganwadis.”
“The public distribution system (PDS) helps, but the distribution of double rations, promised by the government, is erratic”, the survey says, adding, “Observers reported distribution of double rations in just 15 of the 50 survey blocks. Also, a large number of poor households are still excluded from the PDS.”
“Among households that have no ration card and have applied for one, very few are receiving 10 kg of foodgrain, as promised by the chief minister. No effective arrangement has been made for this, other than asking mukhiyas to give 10 kg of foodgrain to needy households using their Rs 10,000 relief fund”, it says.
The civil rights groups wants the government to immediately cover all excluded households under PDS; provide regular monthly rations at the National Feed Security Act (NFSA) level; arrange and advertise dal-bhat kendras at block and gram panchayat level; distribute take-home rations, including eggs, in schools and anganwadis to children, pregnant and lactating women; and erect special grievance redress facilities, especially for PDS.

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Members of the Right to Food Campaign (Jharkhand) conducted a quick survey of essential facilities in rural areas during the first week of April 2020. “Observers” dispersed over 50 blocks in 19 districts were asked to check the local facilities (ration shops, dal-bhat kendras, anganwadis, among others) and report their observations over the phone (List of blocks attached). The main findings are presented below.

Dal-bhat kendras

Dal-bhat kendras (DBKs) were operational in 42 of the 50 survey blocks. However, most of them are underutilised (just a few customers at a time). One reason is that people are unable to move about during the lockdown. But there are other reasons too: (1) insufficient public awareness about the DBKs; (2) many DBKs lack visibility (e.g. bright painting, large banner); (3) some are poorly located, e.g. far away from needy areas.
Of the 42 functional kendras, nine still charge money (Rs 5 per person) for the meals. In some of the kendras, distancing rules are not being followed.
Most of the kendras allowed people to take food away in their own containers.
Some self-help group (SHG) members running the kendras complained that they had to spend their own money to procure food items as the government fund was insufficient.

Community kitchens at thanas

In 39 of the 50 survey blocks, the local thana had a community kitchen, used mainly by people who live in the vicinity. In blocks where the thana is far from residential areas, the utilization of the community kitchen is relatively low.

Public distribution system

Many irregularities in the functioning of the PDS were reported. Most importantly, the distribution of “double rations” (April-May quotas in one go) seems to be very erratic. Among 50 observers, 21 reported that many cardholders in the area were still waiting for their April rations. 
Among the remaining 29, only 15 reported that double rations had been distributed in April. Dealers gave a variety of excuses for giving a single month’s rations, e.g. some said that they had not received the May quota, others that they would distribute it later, and so on. 
Among households that have no ration card and have applied for one, very few are receiving 10 kg of foodgrain, as promised by CM
In at least four out of 50 blocks, even March rations were yet to be distributed.
As per official instructions, biometric authentication has been abandoned in most of the ration shops. Most of them operate in offline mode or used the fixed-OTP method.
The practice of dealers taking cuts (katauti) from people’s rations, i.e. giving less than the entitled quantity but recording the full amount, continues unabated.
Among households that have no ration card and have applied for one, very few are receiving 10 kg of foodgrain as promised by the Chief Minister. No effective arrangement has been made for this, other than asking mukhiyas to give 10 kg of foodgrain to needy households using their Rs 10,000 relief fund. This fund is insufficient even for a one-off grant of 10 kg to most of these excluded households.

Gram Panchayat emergency relief fund

Many mukhiyas are using their Rs 10,000 emergency relief fund, but not always to help needy households. Some are using the relief fund to set up isolation wards at the panchayat bhawan. Also, the emergency rations distributed by the mukhiya vary between 5 and 10 kg per household. In 18 blocks, mukhiyas of at least some gram panchayats are not using the fund.

Anganwadis and midday meals

As per official instructions, anganwadis are closed during the lockdown. Only 18 out of 50 observers reported that dry rations were distributed in anganwadis during the last few weeks. In most cases, take-home rations had not distributed since January 2020.
Only 33 of the 50 observers reported that rice or other take-home rations were distributed in the primary schools in place of mid-day meals. Some schools also distribute cash (equivalent to the “conversion costs” of midday meals, according to teachers). But these take-home benefits rarely seem to reach children who live at some distance from the school. Also, there is significant variation in the amount of rice or money distributed across the state.

Banks and Pragya Kendras

Banks were open in all the survey blocks, except Ranka (Garhwa district). However, most of the banks are open half-time only. Most people are unable to visit the banks due to movement restrictions and lack of transport. In at least eight blocks, people had difficulties in withdrawing money as the banks had imposed restrictions because of inadequate cash.
Pragya Kendras were reported to be open in 29 of the 50 survey blocks. Most of them, if open, still use fingerprint authentication – a possible health hazard at this time.

Health centres and OPDs

Monitors of all the blocks reported that none of the health sub-centres were functioning. In nine blocks, even the block-level PHC/CHC did not have a functional OPD.

Hunger

In 15 of the 50 blocks, observers reported specific cases of hunger or of shortage of food in hamlets of marginalised people such as particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs).

Police harassment

In 13 of the 50 survey blocks, there were reports of police harassment of people who had ventured out for essential services. As a result, people do not even go to the bank or dal-bhat kendras. In some blocks (e.g. Lavalong, Manika and Chatarpur), specific cases of harassment were reported such as confiscation of fishing nets from people who were fishing in the village pond, beating of young boys who were grazing their cattle, and harassment of people on their way to the ration shop or other essential facilities.

Conclusion

The general picture is grim: very little public support is available to poor people in rural Jharkhand at this time of crisis, whether it is through anganwadis, health centres or even dal-bhat kendras. The PDS helps, but the distribution of double rations is erratic and a large number of poor households are still excluded from the PDS. There is an urgent need for more effective relief measures.

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