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Delhi's 97% ration shops 'not distributing' rations, 42% closed during working hours

Counterview Desk

Ponting towards "alarming state of food insecurity in Delhi", the civil rights group, Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyaan (DRRAA) has regretted that ration distribution for people without ration cards has stopped in most areas and public distribution system (PDS) grain distribution is yet to be started in most places for the month of July.
Based on visits to ration shops and designated ration distribution centres, a DRRAA note says that lakhs of people who need rations are left out of the food security system due to pre-determined state-wise quotas and paucity of necessary documents (Aadhaar, electricity bill, proof of residence), even though last year nearly 70 lakh people had registered and received ration under the e-coupon scheme of the Delhi government.

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In the last week of May 2021, the Delhi government formulated a policy to provide rations to people without ration cards. The policy announced, following the Supreme Court order dated May 13, 2021 in the migrant workers case, provided for 5 kgs of grain per person as a one-time relief and had a predetermined cap of 20 lakh people.
The Delhi High Court in the DRRAA matter in its order dated June 25, 2021, observed that having a cap of 20 lakh persons is “is a substantial underestimate” and “is an exercise in arbitrariness since that number appears to be improvised”. It further noted that it was “not sure if styling the food relief exercise as a ‘one-time measure’ would sub-serve the purpose of the policy”.
The court after being reassured by the Delhi counsel that the cabinet is seized of the matter and will be reviewing the policy decision soon, exercising judicial restraint, refrained from giving directions. The order notes, “We accordingly await the decision of the Delhi Cabinet appropriately revising the number of Non-PDS beneficiaries under the scheme in question”.

Public Distribution System

In Delhi, 72.7 lakh persons or 37% of the population of Delhi has been issued ration cards under the Public Distribution System (PDS) of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and avail foodgrains through ration shops. To cope with economic distress caused due to COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns, the Central government, under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY), enhanced ration entitlement for cardholders by announcing an extra 5 kg foodgrains free of cost, per person for the period May to November 2021.
The ration entitlements to be disbursed in the month of July 2021 in Delhi are 10 kgs of foodgrains per person free of cost on Priority category ration cards and for Antyodaya (AAY) category ration cards, the entitlement is 35 kgs foodgrains per card along with an additional quota of 5 kgs foodgrains per person under PMGKAY, all of which is free of cost.
As per the policy, 282 schools have been designated as distribution centres for the NON PDS ration where people can walk in and register and avail grains. Between July 12 and 17, 2021, volunteers of DRRAA visited 221 designated schools all over Delhi and found that 92% exhausted the ration stock and were therefore not supplying ration to people.
Most had run out of stock several days ago and the stock had not been replenished since then, forcing the schools to turn away people who had reached there seeking rations. During the hearing in the Delhi HC, the government had assured the court it will revise the scheme in light of the court objecting to the cap of 20 lakh persons and it being a one time measure only. However, till date no decision regarding revision of non-PDS scheme is available in the public domain.
DRRAA visited 221 designated schools all over Delhi and found that 92% exhausted the ration stock and were therefore not supplying ration
Delhi has a network of 2,000 ration shops. On July 20, 2021, volunteers visited 37 shops located in Chirag Delhi, Masjid Moth, Greater Kailash, Sant Nagar, Kusumpur Pahari, Ber Sarai, Ekta Vihar, Sector 7 RK Puram, Munirka, Hauz Rani, Kalu Sarai, Begumpur, Adchini, Yusuf Sarai, Harkesh Nagar and Govindpuri. 97% ration shops visited were found to be not distributing rations (36 out of 37 shops).
Of these, 42% were found to be closed during working hours (15 out of 36 shops) while the rest were open but not distributing grains as either they were yet to receive the stock or had not been authorised by the government to start distribution. Only 1 shop was open and distributing grains to ration cardholders.

Conclusion

It is a matter of grave concern that during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite people bearing the brunt of the twin crisis of health and financial distress, the government is failing to ensure basic food security for people. Providing rations to people who do not possess ration cards and timely disbursal of foodgrains under PDS are key to ensuring food security and preventing hunger and starvation.
However, the scheme for giving rations to migrant workers, daily wagers, domestic workers, rickshaw pullers etc. who do not possess ration cards has virtually wound up as the government is not replenishing the ration stock in designated distribution centres. Further, despite giving assurances to judges in the Delhi HC, the government has not revised the scheme to remove the cap of 20 lakh and address the concern of the court that distribution of ration as a one-time relief would be inadequate to deal with the level of distress.
It is important to note that the Supreme Court in its judgment in the migrant workers case has directed all state governments to put in place a mechanism to provide dry rations to migrant workers who do not possess ration cards by formulating and implementing a scheme by July 31. Till date, the government has not announced any such scheme.
Lakhs of people who need rations are left out of the food security system due to pre-determined state-wise quotas and paucity of necessary documents (Aadhaar, electricity bill, proof of residence). Last year, nearly 70 lakh people had registered and received ration under the e-coupon scheme of the Delhi government in which ration was provided to those without cards.
Therefore, it is crucial that the government immediately revise the non-PDS Scheme to do away with the cap of 20 lakh, restock the schools and provide ration on a monthly basis till the pandemic continues.
The PDS is a lifeline for people during this time of crisis. It is extremely concerning that we are now nearly in the third week of July and ration distribution for the month has not started in most ration shops in Delhi. Many people have lost their livelihood and are dependent on foodgrains provided under the PDS to feed themselves and their families.
The delay in distribution of rations is resulting in people being forced to purchase foodgrains from the open market at non-subsidized prices. At a time when people are dealing with an unprecedented health crisis and job loss, timely distribution of ration is critical to ensure food security.

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