Most households in Jharkhand’s Nagri block prefer subsidised grains over cash transfers, revealed a social audit of the direct benefit transfer scheme for food subsidy by the state’s rural development department.
Over 97% of the respondents said they face a lot of trouble while withdrawing cash and accessing subsidised food. The survey found that it took a family almost 13 hours to withdraw the cash deposited in their accounts and buy grains from designated fair price shops. Besides, close to 13% of 12,126 ration card holders in Nagri did not receive any money. Only 17% got their monthly cash subsidies on time. Out of 38 gram sabhas, 36 unanimously said no to the scheme and demanded a return to the old public distribution scheme.
The pilot cash transfer scheme was launched by the Union Food Ministry in Nagri block, near capital Ranchi, in October. Under it, poor households have to collect their food subsidy in cash from the bank before using it to buy rice from the ration shop at Rs 32 per kg. Earlier, they were able to buy rice from the ration shop at Re 1 per kg.
“The fact that the pilot did not work in a place next to the state capital shows the lack of preparedness... the poor is paying the cost for the gaps in banking infrastructure,” economist Jean Dreze told Mint.
The gram sabhas in Nagri have held massive protests since the scheme was launched. In February, student volunteers conducted a survey that showed that the scheme was causing hardship to the people. Later, residents marched to the governor’s house in Ranchi to demand that the scheme be revoked.
The state government said it would take a decision after completing its own social audit of the scheme by the end of March. In May, the state government wrote to the Centre seeking permission to discontinue the scheme in Nagri.
The report comes at a time when there have been 12 hunger-related deaths in the state from September to June, according to Right To Food campaign. Activists have alleged that glitches in the Aadhaar-based Public Distribution System led to at least seven of these deaths since 11-year-old Santoshi Kumari allegedly died crying for rice in Simdega district in September 2017.
In December, Premani Kunwar, a 65-year-old widow, allegedly starved to death, activists said. On January 2, 67-year-old Etwariya Devi died of hunger in Garhwa district, and on January 23, activists reported another starvation death they suspect was linked to the glitches – Lukhi Murmu, a 30-year-old woman from Dhawadangal village in Pakur district, died of malnutrition and exhaustion.