Mazdoor Ekta Lehar
Immediately after the lockdown was announced, the Finance Minister announced with great fanfare grandiose schemes of crores of rupees to help working people who have lost their livelihood as a result. Distribution of grain and pulses along with some other food stuff was one of the announcements. But the real situation on the ground continues to be terrible for crores of working people across the country.
There have been several media reports highlighting the complete failure of the government as far as ensuring supply of food grains is concerned. These reports indicate that a huge majority of ration card holders have not received the promised ration. For example, the Stranded Worker’s Action Network (SWAN) associated with the Right to Food campaign, reported based on its findings that 98% of those who called for their help had not received any foodgrains from the Government.
It was reported that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation helpline which was launched with fanfare for providing assistance to stranded workers was almost always not reachable. Shiv Bhojan, which is an initiative by the Maharashtra Government, is not known to most workers. Many addresses provided in the list of food distribution centers seem non-existent.
A survey conducted by Delhi Roji Roti Adhikar Abhiyan also threw up similar alarming facts. Despite the Delhi High Court’s recent direction urging the Delhi government to ensure that all fair price shops operate during working hours and distribute public distribution system (PDS) grains, the survey revealed that only 62% are functioning and only half of them are distributing grains. The Abhiyan survey also revealed that rations were not being distributed fully. The display of mandatory information was also missing or incomplete in more than 85% shops.
The court has directed that the government should ensure that food grains are distributed to the poor, marginalized non-PDS residents also. But the prerequisite for this is that people should apply for e-coupons. Ironically, the requirement for getting e-coupons are a working smart phone with a valid sim card and the ability to navigate an online application procedure as well as Aadhar cards and photos of all family members. This system is thus out of reach for the poorest and the most marginalized.
If this is the situation even in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi one can imagine the plight of those living in smaller towns and of those who do not have a ration card with them where they are stranded at present.
No wonder everyday there are reports from many places in the country of clashes between people desperate to get their ration and police trying to control them.
The present situation reinforces the necessity for the state to ensure a modern universal PDS which would supply food grains and other essential items of consumption in adequate quantity, of good quality, and at affordable price.