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Govt of India 'excludes' 10 crore poor people from food security net despite SC directive

Counterview Desk 

At a meeting held under the banner of the civil rights group Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA) hundreds of people from the slum settlements of the national capital as also other marginalised communities gathered to express their “deep anguish and dismay” at the reduction in food subsidy by 31% in the Union Budget 2023-24.
In a note* on the meeting, DRRAA said, several people testified at the hearing that despite being in a precarious economic situation and in need of rations, they have been unable to secure a ration card as the quota for Delhi has been exhausted.
Prashant Bhushan, senior lawyer of the Supreme Court, after hearing the testimonies alleged that the Government of India (GoI) was violating the directions of the Supreme Court. He said, the apex court had asked the GoI to re-determine the population coverage of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), which was stagnant since 2011, as the government had failed to undertake the decadal census of 2021.
According to him, more than 10 crore people were being excluded from the food security net as the coverage did not take into account the increase in population.

Text:

A public meeting was held in Delhi on the issues of food insecurity, budget cuts and hunger wherein more than 300 people from slum settlements and marginalised communities of Delhi participated. The meeting organised by Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA) and was attended by leaders of political parties, lawyers and civil society groups.
It was highlighted that the food subsidy budget has been slashed by 31% in the Union Budget 2023-24 and the ration that ration cardholders were entitled to till December 2022 i.e. 10 kgs per person (5 kgs NFSA and 5 kgs under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana or PMGKAY) has been halved to only 5 kgs per person only, as the PMGKAY grains have been discontinued. Further, despite directions of the Supreme Court, the government has not made any provisions for increasing the number of ration cardholders by enhancing the population coverage under the National Food Security Act which has remained static since 2011.
Several people testified at the hearing that despite being in a precarious economic situation and in need of rations, they have been unable to secure a ration card as the quota for Delhi has been exhausted.
Geeta, a widow residing in Balmiki Slum Camp, Begumpur testified that she is struggling to make ends meet. She works as a domestic help and has four daughters. She shared that though she had applied for a ration card several years ago in 2019, it had still not been made.
Chameli Devi of jhuggi bastis in Yamuna Khadar testified that though she had applied for a ration card in 2016 and made several rounds of the department to follow up on her application, she had still not received a ration card. She shared about the hardships faced by her household on account of loss of livelihoods and economic hardship during the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns. The status of the ration card application keeps showing as “pending” despite the passage of more than 7 years.
Prashant Bhushan, senior lawyer of the Supreme Court after hearing testimonies said that the government was violating the directions of the Supreme Court. He said that during the COVID lockdown in 2020, the SC took cognisance of the distress and miseries among people and directed the central government multiple time to re-determine the population coverage of NFSA which was stagnant since 2011. As the government had failed to undertake the decadal census of 2021, more than 10 crore people were being excluded from the food security net as the coverage did not take into account the increase in population. He said the government was only working for its crony capitalist friends while common people struggled to even meet their fundamental right to food.
People also highlighted that the announcement that the 5 kgs per person entitlement under NFSA has now been made free would in no way compensates for the increased expenditure on food as the entitlement has been cut from 10 to 5 kgs per person. The waiving off of the subsidized price of Rs. 2/kg for wheat & Rs. 3/ kg for rice would only result in a saving of Rs. 15 per person. However, upwards of Rs. 120 per person will have to be spent to procure 5 kgs extra ration per person which government has discontinued. The waiving off the subsidized prices is also referred to as PMGKAY leading to confusion in large sections that the additional grain still continues.
People also testified about the problems in accessing other entitlements under the NFSA especially maternity entitlements. Sashita of VP Singh camp testified that during her pregnancy in November 2021, she submitted all her documents for enrolling for the maternity entitlement scheme which entails Rs. 5,000 for pregnant and lactating women. Despite repeatedly following up, and submitting her documents and application again, she had not received any money. She said she was struggling to ensure adequate food for herself and her child and the money would have been extremely helpful.
B Kango, leader of the CPI, after hearing people said that the budget was a huge betrayal of people. He said his party is committed to raising peoples’ issues and will highlight the budget cuts and reduction in ration entitlements of people across the country.
John Birittas, MP from CPI(M) said he was shocked to note that lakhs of residents in low income settlements of the national capital did not have ration cards. He said he will raise the point in Parliament and seek enhancement of budget and entitlements to help people cope during these difficult times of inflation and unemployment. He said that government must bring in place a program for providing guaranteed employment in urban areas to address the distress.
Anjali Bhardwaj of DRRAA said that information accessed under the RTI Act showed that nearly 3 lakh applications for ration cards were pending just in Delhi which would imply about 12-15 lakh persons who had applied for rationcards were unable to get ration cards.
Amitabh Behar of Oxfam highlighted the problem of extreme inequality in the country and expressed dismay at the cut in the food budget at a time when unemployment and inflation is peaking.
Several people spoke of the lack of nutritious and diverse food items in mid day meals and through Anganwadis wherein mostly only daliya is served. Chirashree Ghosh of Neev Delhi FORCES highlighted the impact of the inadequate budget provisions in schemes meant for women and children and the adverse affect it has on the health and cognitive development.
People raised several demands related to food and social security including:
  • Continuation of extra ration of 5 kgs per person under PMGKAY over and above the 5 Kgs per person under NFSA till distress continues
  • Increasing and opening quota for making new ration cards as also directed repeatedly by the SC to the central government.
  • Setting up effective system for Grievance Redress and Accountability. Delhi has no system for carrying out social audit and there is no functional state food commission.
  • Expansion of food basket to include millets and other nutritious commodities such as pulses and oil, after procuring these at the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
  • ICDS and midday meals programmes should make adequate provisions for inclusion of fruits, milk, eggs and nutrient dense diet in the meals. Hot cooked meals should extend to children under three years of age through crèches and to pregnant and lactating women through community kitchens.
  • Maternity entitlements should be universalized and made unconditional. The amount of benefit should be increased to at least ₹6,000 per child, as per the provisions of NFSA.
  • Provision for employment guarantee in urban areas along the lines of the NREGA in rural areas.
---
Issued by: Anjali Bhardwaj, Amrita Johri, Annie Raja, Chirashree Ghosh, Shakeel, Deepti, Thaneshwar, Aakanksha Badkur, Koninika Ray, Rajender, Aysha, Raj Shekhar, Anita Kapoor, Vimla, Rushda, Dipa Sinha, Ashok Kumar on behalf of DRRAA

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