Jharkhand: The Food Security Act of 2013 is no more than a pious piece of legislation, due to government apathy and corruption in the PDS system. The poor have been denied their right to essential grains because of ‘technalities’.
Fed up with the callous and corrupt system, the affected people are now coming together to express their rightful demands in a vocal manner. A week ago, people demanded their right to food security. An intriguing question, where did three months of essential supplies go? Where are the stocks of subsidized grains?
Hundreds of ration cardholders of 11 villages from across West Singhbhum protested in front of the district’s Deputy Commissioner’s office against the denial of their Public Distribution System (PDS) foodgrains for many months over the past two years.
In West Singhbhum, for the past few months, poor people have been repeatedly denied food grains and supply on the basis of a lot of technicalities, mostly springing out of the failures of Aadhar system. Grain supply of families of all the villages have been pending from 2016 onward, and there is no mention of immediate distribution to the cardholders. A lot of eligible families’ ration cards have been cancelled. Many ration dealers are responsible for siphoning off PDS grains, Aadhaar-based biometric authentication system is causing a lot of damage to the delivery of the PDS services to the people, according to a report in an English language daily.
John Kayam of Chakradharpur’s Baipi village said, “None of the cardholders of our village has received PDS grains for the months of September-December 2018. We complained several times to the Supply Officer, District Grievance Redress Officer (DGRO), Deputy Commissioner and even the State Food Commission.”
Kelaram Majhi from the neighbouring village of Kupui said, “We have also not received grains for those three months. Eighty-one cardholders of the village have decided that they will not take any PDS ration till they get their pending grains.”
People of other villages too such as Khuntpanin block’s Ulirajabasa, Bada Bankua, Onkolkuti and Sonua’s Podahat stated that they were yet to get ration for a few months over the past two years.
The National Food Security Act commands that all complaints are to be remedied within one month. Many cardholders present in the dharna said that despite having complained repeatedly to the block and district administration over the past one year, their issues remain unresolved.
Villagers of Kupui said that the Block Supply Officer and the ration dealer had forged their thumbprints and signatures in a report to the district administration, according to which the cardholders of the village received grains for September 2018 (which they are yet to receive). The DGRO also threatened them that their ration cards would be cancelled if they did not agree to take the ration for months other than September-December 2018.
People of Khuntpani’s Ulirajabasa said that they did not get ration for three months in 2016, one month in 2017 and four months in 2018. After several complaints, they were called for a district-level hearing. But the DGRO declared that they will get pending grains only for the four months of 2018. According to her, cases of 2016 and 2017 are very old. Elderly Suniya Jojo of Baipi said, “Don’t the officials feel ashamed to eat the ration meant for the poor”
Biren Diggi of Sonua’s Podahat village died of hunger in December 2018 after being denied grains for four months. Kaushalya Diggi of the same village said in the dharna today that despite so many complaints since then, the villagers are yet to be given ration for September-December 2018. Cardholders of Lupungutu village of Chaibasa Sadar block shared that the ration dealer makes them authenticate in the electronic Point of Sale machine but does not give them grains.
Manki Tubid, who works on people’s rights in the district said that irregularities in the PDS are not limited to a few villages, but are widespread across the district. While the ration dealers claim that they are not allocated grains, according to the administration, the dealers are regularly allocated grains as per their online transaction reports. A question raised by everyone in dharna was “where is the grain going then?”. This also makes hollow the claims of the government that Aadhaar has helped in checking leakages in the PDS.
Since Aadhaar was made mandatory in the PDS, cardholders have been facing several hassles. Ration cards not linked with Aadhaar were cancelled in thousands. Many of them are yet to be reissued new cards. Elderly Shuru of Lupungutu village is denied her grain entitlement since a year as her card was cancelled. None of the dealers maintain exemption registers to distribute grains to those who are not unable to successfully authenticate themselves through biometrics.
Representatives met the OSD of the DC. He admitted that several villages of the district are facing this issue. He also categorically said that people would not get the pending ration as the dealer was not allocated the grains. He said the department allocates grains to the dealers as per their online transaction report. When it was pointed out that it means that grains are getting leaked, he remained silent.
The team submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner, which included the following demands:
· Pending grains of all the villages from 2016 onward should be immediately distributed to the cardholders.
· All eligible families whose ration cards have been cancelled, should be immediately issued new cards
· Ration dealers responsible for siphoning off PDS grains should be terminated and all functionaries responsible for the irregularities should be adequately punished.
· Aadhaar-based biometric authentication system should be removed from the PDS.
The dharna ended with burning of effigies of the DGRO and the District Supply Officer.