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November last month for free ration to poor? NGO seeks clarification, writes to PM

Counterview Desk

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s well-known civil rights organization, the Right to Food campaign, has expressed “deep concern” that the free ration distribution scheme under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana would end in November 2020, and no announcement has been yet made to extend the scheme further.
Signed by Aysha, Gangaram Paikra, Kavita Srivastava and Dipa Sinha, the letter says that the scheme needs to continue in order to support 80 crore Indians listed under the National Food Security Act for at least another six months to cope with “the economic distress caused due to the lockdown on account of Covid-19.”
The letter, a copy of which has also been sent to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Union consumer affairs, food and public distribution minister Piyush Goyal,also insists on universalisation of the public distribution system to "support" migrants workers, homeless, sex workers, trans people and other vulnerable communities, even those without ration cards.  

Text:

We write to you to express our deep concern about the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKAY). The free ration distribution across the country is applicable only up to November 2020. Under this scheme, all persons with a ‘priority’ or Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) ration card under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 are receiving additional 5 kgs grain per person and each household with a ration card 1 kg of chana for free. This is a much needed measure to support 80 crore Indians listed under the NFSA, in coping with the economic distress caused due to the lockdown on account of Covid-19.
However, we are worried as no announcement has been made yet to extend this scheme beyond November. The pandemic still exists and the uncertainty over livelihoods remains with unemployment at record levels.
At a time like this, when foodgrain stocks are at a record high and people are facing the real possibility of hunger and starvation, the government should universalise the public distribution system (PDS) to ensure that anyone in need of ration would be supported irrespective of whether they possess a ration card.
State governments must also be provided additional foodgrains at subsidised prices to expand benefits. Further the Prime Minister had on World Food Day, indicated that production and procurement of millets will be promoted. They have already been included in the National Food Security Act, 2013 but their distribution to states needs to be increased.
When foodgrain stocks are record high and people face real possibility of hunger and starvation, government should universalise PDS
The migrant worker crisis has also exposed the fragility of our social security system and the lack of resilience among the working class to cope with such economic shocks. Most migrant workers do not possess ration cards and therefore are unable to benefit from this PMGKAY scheme.
To ensure that nobody is excluded from the PDS, it is essential to universalize it and allow everyone who needs rations to access them. Immediate arrangements should be made to universalise the PDS and to include dal and edible oils as part of the monthly entitlements.
It is unacceptable if even a single person dies of starvation in our country at a time when godowns are overflowing. Estimates of available Food Corporation of India (FCI) stocks indicate that it is feasible to both universalise the PDS and simultaneously extend the PMGKAY for at least another 6 months.
The Right to Food Campaign immediately demands:
  • Extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (for at least for six months till May 2021), with the provision of edible oil and pulses to each household
  • Universalise the public distribution system to support all persons especially migrants workers, homeless, sex workers, trans people and all vulnerable communities even without ration cards 
  • Expansion of the PDS to provide millets and other nutritious commodities 
  • Provide compensatory food security allowance to at least 100 million Indians who have been excluded

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