Covid-19 is crippling for the poor, make PDS universal now!: Right To Food Campaign’s Appeal

An appeal from the ‘Right to Food’ Campaign to the Government of India:

To
Ram Vilas Paswan
Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution
Government of India

9 April 2020

Dear Sir,

Universalize the Public Distribution System to avoid further hunger and starvation

On behalf of the Right to Food Campaign we appeal to you to urgently make the availability of rations under the Public Distribution System (PDS) universal in such a manner that any person/household that approaches a fair price shop (FPS) can get a package of grains, pulses and cooking oil to avoid widespread hunger and starvation. The national lockdown that was imposed has resulted in loss of livelihoods to millions of poor and working people across the country. The Campaign received reports of widespread hunger from across the country, and also starvation deaths in Bihar, Hyderabad, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Supply chains were broken and access to markets has also become more difficult. The relief measures announced by the Government of India under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) are hugely inadequate in responding to the need. Of utmost concern is the fact that the free rations that have been announced are only for the 65% of population who already have ration cards under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), thereby excluding a large number of people.

A large section of those who do not have ration cards includes some of the most vulnerable sections of society, such as migrants, old persons, young children and so on. As we have been pointing out time and again, it is only a universal system along with additional measures which will be able to reach the most vulnerable. In the last few years, in every state, thousands of people who have been trying to get a ration card have been told that the ‘quotas’ for the state are exhausted. We, therefore, urge you to make the PDS entitlements for six months at least universal in coverage in the sense that no person who approaches a ration shop for free grains should be denied the same for lack of ration cards. Universal schemes tend to have lower leakages and minimal exclusions. Universal PDS in states such as Tamil Nadu has resulted in the rich self-selecting themselves out of the system because the opportunity cost of standing in the line and the relatively inferior quality of grain are not worth their benefits. If everyone has access to the free rations, the possibility of selling the same grain in black is also reduced.

The following are some of the points we would like to bring to your notice in this regard:

1. The relief that has been announced in the form of free grains and inclusion of pulses has not yet reached most states and delay is not acceptable given the acute distress people are facing.
2. Some states have announced their own measures, such as additional 2.5kgs of grain in Delhi for ration card holders or free grain for Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) holders in Uttar Pradesh. These need to be seen as an add on, and the central allocation of additional 5kg per head must still reach people.
3. In some states, such as Delhi, it has been announced that those who do not have NFSA ration cards will also be given rations. However, the online application system put in place for this is cumbersome and not workable. Based on this experience, we reiterate that what we need now is a mechanism where no person is rejected and is given ration without needing to apply for fresh cards. Ration shopkeepers can put marks with indelible ink on people’s hands to prevent people from taking ration more than once.
4. State governments that are expanding their PDS coverage and quantity must be encouraged and given additional allocations from the central pool for free or at NFSA prices so that they can immediately ensure that these entitlements reach people.

There are 77 million tonnes of foodgrain stocks in the FCI godowns – thrice the buffer stock norms. Once the procurement of the Rabi crop is completed, there will be even more. As per the PIB release, only about 2 million tonnes have been released so far to the states to meet the requirements of the relief measures. It is therefore imminently possible to expand the PDS to cover every individual with 10kg of grain. To this dal and cooking oil must also be added so that people can at least cook a basic meal. Urban areas would continue to require community kitchens/feeding centres to address the needs of the homeless and destitute populations.

Right to Food Campaign
(Secretariat)
24, Block A, Adhchini, Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi – 110017, India

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