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Refusal to implement NFSA? Gujarat babus 'fear' poverty numbers would spike

By Pankti Jog*

The National Food Security Act (NFSA) has the provision to cover 75% of rural and 50% of urban population for subsidized ration, for which the Government of India is giving 100% expenses. Many states like Orissa, West Bengal and some southern states are adding their own budgets to this. But as for Gujarat, surprisingly, it has been found reducing the scope of NFSA coverage.
After the lockdown was announced on March 24, all priority households – antyodaya (poorest of the poor), below poverty line (BPL), and those covered under NFSA called above poverty line-1 (APL-1)  – were supposed to be allocated double the quota of the ration across India.
However, in Gujarat, there has existed an option of “splitting” ration cards – antyodaya, APL or BPL – once families get bigger and separated. For this, the they would have to fill up form No 5, issued by the state food and civil supply department. Under the provision, before issuing a separate card, the competent authority is supposed to determine the category of card of ration card to be handed over to the separated family.
As per a Gujarat government resolution (GR) dated March 23, 2016, a three member bock-level committee should decide on the criterion to include a family in the priority household list under NFSA. However, across Gujarat, this procedure is not followed, and every separated family is automatically put under non-NFSA category, and issued an APL card.
Each applicant seeking separate ration card is then asked to fill up a claim form if they wish to have an antoyodaya or BPL card for getting free ration, which requires a long list of documents, including income certificate and affidavit, costing up to Rs 700. The applicant is required to visit different places for getting these documents done.
During the Covid situation this is an extra burden put on the families for no fault of theirs. Since 2016, it is estimated that thousands of such claim forms have been submitted at block levels awaiting disposal.
Akshay Kumar Harijan, a youth from tribal village Toyni in Devgadh Baria block in Dahod district, contacted us the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Panel (MAGP) helpline, narrating his story. Living in a joint family, the names of his family members were included the antyodaya card, wich his farther as the head. 
Gujarat has lately witnessed a sharp decrease the priority households covered under the National Food Security Act. Poor families are being excluded for no fault of theirs
After necessary formalities, he was handed over a separate ration card. But to his utter shock, this was an APL, non-NFSA card, on which he could not get any ration. He told MAGP helpline that no due process of checking his income was carried out before handing him over the APL card.
Cover of MAGP booklet on NFSA 
We at the MAGP helpline (9924085000) are flooded with similar calls from many districts across Gujarat to know what they should do, as everyone is being issued APL cards. Even fair price shop (FPS) holders have reported this problem to our helpline, with request to bring this to the notice of government officials. 
This has led to a sharp decrease in the number of names under the priority household list. The allocation of food grains in Gujarat, too, has been decreasing. Gujarat as of today is showing coverage of 3.35 crore under NFSA, which comes to 48% of the Gujarat’s population, as against the provision 75% the rural and 50% of the urban population to be covered under NFSA.
When we contacted block and district supply officers, they told us that these instructions have come from Gandhinagar, where officials feared that pleas for new ration cards under NFSA from separated families would give the message that poverty was increasing in the state.
This is a completely wrong interpretation of priority households, because separated households – whether antyodaya, BPL or APL – would mean a higher number of priority households, but the amount of food grains wouldn’t go up, as only ration card splits.
One should remember: Refusal to offer ration because of procedural issues amidst Covid crisis would only aggravate the condition of the marginalized families, many of whose sources of income have sharply reduced. The government is expected to expand its coverage for food security instead of restricting it, that too without following the due process of law. This may force many families into hunger.
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*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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