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Lockdown checkup: PDS improves, but MGNREGA work 'missing' in many villages

By Our Representative 
The second round of the Lockdown Checkup survey, conducted by members of the Right to Food Campaign Jharkhand  has found that while the public distribution system (PDS) has improved in the state, work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is still missing in many villages.
The survey took place during the 2nd and 3rd week of May 2020, and focused on the status of essential services like ration shops,  MGNREGA, dal-bhat kendras, community kitchens, banks, etc.
Based on telephonic reports of observers from 46 blocks in 22 districts (50 blocks in 19 districts for Round 1, in the first week of April), while comparing the two rounds, the survey results show that PDS and dal-bhat kendras have improved in April and in most blocks (42 out of 46), PDS cardholders received double rations in April.
In 40 out of 46 blocks, cardholders have started getting free ration in the month of May: 10 kg per person in 35 blocks and 5 kg per person in another five blocks, the survey found, adding, however, that even though all cardholders are to receive 2 kg of free dal for April-May, it has not been distributed in 35 out of the 46 blocks.
Also, in all the remaining blocks barring one, cardholders received only 1 kg dal instead of 2 kg. Also, the problem of ‘katauti’ i.e. giving less than entitled quantity continued unabated.
The survey said, the Mukhyamantri dal-bhat kendras are now active in a larger number of blocks, compared with Round 1. But the utilisation of dal-bhat kendras remains very low, because of the lockdown. Only 16 out of 45 kendras have been publicised by the local administration. Some kendras in Ranchi are delivering food to nearby slums, with good effect. But among the surveyed blocks, only 8 out of 46 have adopted mobile food delivery.
As for 'Didi kitchens', the survey said, these are running in gram panchayats (of block observers) of 43 out of 46 surveyed blocks. In most cases, however, the kitchen is not accessible to needy people from all the villages in the gram panchayat (GP): only those who reside in nearby tolas or villages are able to reach the kitchen.
In 37 out of 46 blocks, there were long queues and overcrowding outside banks. People had to queue for hours, sometimes standing in the sun
At the same time, the survey noted, unemployment is a significant problem today in rural areas and many workers are interested in MGNREGA work. Thus, only 29 out of 46 observers reported that MGNREGA work had started in their village.
In many villages, small works like TCB (trench cum bunds) have opened which hardly create adequate work for all workers. Many migrant workers do not have job cards and many others who have job cards are unable to get work because of the complexity of the application process. The system is poorly prepared for a big expansion of MGNREGA employment. For instance, many blocks do not even have programme officer at block level.
The survey further found that in 37 out of 46 blocks, there are long queues and overcrowding outside the banks. People have to queue for hours, sometimes standing in the sun. Specially abled and older people are facing many difficulties in withdrawing money.
In 41 out of 46 blocks, Pragya Kendras or Customer Service Centres are active in the neighbourhood of the observer, but at least 13 of these centres face technical problems such as: (1) Link failure, (2) Fingerprint authentication failure, (3) Lack of money.
In some blocks, people have been asked to come again the next day to get cash even after biometric verification. In such a situation, it will also be challenging for MGNREGA workers to withdraw wages from their bank account.
“Right now it is most important to ensure food and work for everyone in rural areas. Public distribution system should be universalised in rural areas. Under the MGNREGA, large labour-intensive public works should be opened in all the village and weekly cash payments should be made”, a Right to Food Campaign Jharkhand note commented.

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