The Right to Food Campaign on Tuesday welcomed the Centre’s decision to provide free ration to the poor till November but expressed concern that no policies were announced for people without ration cards or those who are additionally included by state governments through state schemes. It said that most migrant workers do not possess ration cards and, therefore, will not be able to access the free ration.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Centre would extend the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana till November this year, amid the economic distress caused by the coronavirus-induced lockdown. Under this scheme, all Indians having “priority” ration card or Antyodaya Anna Yojana ration card under the National Food Security Act will receive additional 5 kg of food grain (rice or wheat) per person and each household with a ration card will get 1 kg pulses for free.
In a statement, the network of food activists said that while the move was “much needed”, most often, it is the poorest and most marginalised who are left out of the Public Distribution System because they do not possess the necessary documents.
“At a time like this, when foodgrain stocks are at a record high and people are facing the real possibility of hunger and starvation, the government should have universalised the PDS and ensured that anyone in need of ration would be provided with it irrespective of whether they possessed a ration card,” the statement said. “State governments must be given additional grains at subsidised prices so that they are able to expand the benefits equally to all beneficiaries.”
Even if the ‘One Nation, One Ration’ scheme was implemented across the country, it would not solve the problem of access to foodgrains for those who are excluded from the PDS entirely, the statement added. The ‘One Nation, One Ration’ scheme is slated to be rolled out completely by March next year.
“The only way to ensure that nobody is excluded from the PDS is to universalise it allowing everyone who wants rations to access them,” the organisation said. “Immediate arrangements should be made to make the PDS universal as well as to include dal and edible oils as part of the monthly entitlements. It is unacceptable if even a single person died of starvation in our country when the godowns are overflowing.”
In March, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced free food ration as part of the first economic package to tackle the coronavirus crisis. The scheme, earlier announced for a three-month period, covered 80 crore ration card holders. It was extended to June 30 under the second economic package called Atmanirbhar Bharat. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled and Opposition-led governments had urged the Centre to extend it.