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Covid-19: Despite World Bank fund, Gujarat 'not offering' key protein intake to poor

Pankti Jog*
Despite taking World Bank loan for food security, facts have come to light suggesting that the Gujarat government is shying away from implementing a crucial food item meant to provide protein under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). This is happening despite the fact that the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) mentions chana as a crucial protein intake to 68 lakh ration card holders.
Worse, there appears to be no sign to implement food allowance as an alternative, which would cost Gujarat coffers just around Rs 41 crore, as required under the provisions of NFSA.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi-declared PMGKY promises free ration and cereals up to November 2020. This was declared by the Prime Minister during a recent address to the nation. Under this scheme every below poverty line (BPL), poorest of the poor antyodaya card holders and those categorised as priority households identified under National Food Security Act (NFSA) are to be given free 3.5 kg of wheat per person, 1.5 kg of rice per person and one kg of chana (chickpea) per ration card each month.
The Government Resolutions (GR), dated July 15, 2020, passed by the department of food and civil supplies, Gujarat government, mentions that all the above three items would be given free of cost to every household under PMGKY. It also allocates specific budget for these items, stating the amount would be given by the Central government, and if any extra amount is needed, then the state government would spend the same.
Another GR dated June 6, 2020 stated that the state government had allocated Rs 287 crore for giving 1 kg of cereals per ration for the whole year.
Officials stressed the banner put up at the block level mentions only about wheat and rice, hence people should understand that they are not supposed to get chana
However, in the month of July, the state government changed its decision and decided not to give chana. Ever since the foodgrains distribution began on July 23, 2020, the Right to Information (RTI) helpline (9924085000) of the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) has been getting hundreds of phone calls to inquire for the reason. As advertisements of PMGKY mentions three items, people were annoyed when they were being denied chana by Fair Price Shop (FPS) dealers.
Upon getting several calls, the RTI helpline activists inquired from several district supply officers across Gujarat, and it was learnt that the decision for cancelling chana was taken at the last moment in the state capital, Gandhinagar, and that they received only SMS informing them that chana was not to be distributed.
When we contacted officials of the state department of food and civil supplies, they agreed that the decision had been taken by an office order, but they refused to give any reason, stating there was no separate circular was needed for that. The officials stressed that the banners put up at the block level or public places mention only about wheat and rice, and therefore people should understand that they are not supposed to get chana.
“During the Covid-19 epidemic, PMGKY is declared to maintain food security amongst marginalized communities. The objective behind giving chana is to supplement for protein in the diet of each vegetarian family. Under NFSA, the government cannot deny or delay in giving allocated ration. If they do so, they have to give food allowance”, said a senior activist. Citizens’ groups across Gujarat echo the same sentiment.
If the government has to pay food allowance to 68 lakh families, it would have to shell out around Rs 41 crore, which surely is not a big amount.
One needs to underscore here that the Government of India has taken a loan from the World Bank for PMGKY worth Rs 17,100 crore, the agreement for which was signed April 16, 2020, in which food components, along with other components, of gas subsidy, Rs 500 for widows, old age pension of Rs 500, and Rs 1,000 to help farmers has been included.
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*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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