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Food security? 15 lakh people of Gujarat's 10 backward districts 'taken off' subsidy list

By Pankti Jog*

If a reply received under the Right to Information (RTI) Act is to be believed, a whopping 3.96 lakh ration cards have been deleted from the National Food Security Act (NFSA) benefit in Gujarat. This comes to over 15 lakh people, all of them belonging to tribal and backwards areas. They have been thrown out of the subsided ration cover despite the current Covid situation.
As per NFSA, passed in 2013 in Parliament, 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population can be covered for subsidized ration for which entire expenses are too be given by the Central government.
Every person in the identified household are entitled to get 5 kg of ration, 3.5 kg of wheat at the rate of Rs.2/kg and 1.5 kg of rice at the rate of Rs.3/kg. As NFSA is connecting right to food with right to life, which is a fundamental right, it also covers food security provisions for infants, children, students in schools under mid-day meal school and out-of-school adolescent age girls, along with the public distribution system.
In Gujarat, NFSA implementation began on April 1, 2016, and 3.41 crore people have been identified for subsidized ration (per person 5 kg) along with 8 lakh most poor (Antyodaya) families (42 lakh people), to whom 35 kg of ration is given per month per family. Thus 3.82 crore people are being covered under NFSA with the support of the Government of India. No separate state budget is available for subsidized ration.
Recently, the RTI helpline run by the Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) started getting frequent calls about names of the families being deleted from the priority household list. As deletion was also noticed from tribal and poor blocks, MAGP decided to file an RTI plea to get the exact number of people/ration cards that were deleted since 2016.
To our surprise, the statistics of 38 blocks, which are currently available with us, show that more than 3.96 lakh cards have been removed from the “priority household” lists, thereby excluding them from the subsidized ration support. These are from 10 districts, which included backward ones, Dang, Navsari, Tapi, Sabarkantha, Banaskantha and Dahod, from where people had complained about the same at block and district levels.
People complained that their names have been removed just because they raised their voice against inadequate quota or quality of ration
People complained that their names have been removed just because they raised their voice against inadequate quota or quality of ration. Large number of cards have been made silent because cardholders could t go to collect their ration as they had migrated to another city in search of work. Officials told our helpline that there is no circular regarding procedure of putting cards into the “silent mode”, or re-activating them thereafter.
RTI response from 38 blocks revealed that in the year 2016-17, as many 80,000 cards were removed or deleted from the “priority household” list, which forms the NFSA cover. The figures for 2018-19 is 42,000, for 2018-19 it is 1.86 lakh, and for 2019-20 it is 70,000. This has been done despite the fact that the process of putting ration cards into the silent category, or deletion, after separating them following change in address, is not unacceptable under the law.
It should further be noted that the Government of India gives ration support for 3.84 crore people. However, the Gujarat government distributes ration to 3.21 crore people. As many as 60 lakh people are being unnecessarily being excluded.
During the pandemic situation, such exclusion is inhuman. It is also denial of one’s right to life. In fact, looking at the malnourishment situation in Gujarat, the state should seek more than what it is being offered by the Centre. The state government should point that Gujarat’s 4.11 crore people are entitled to get ration as per NFSA.
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*Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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