Waiting for the public distribution system to work

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Waiting for the public distribution system to work

Friday, 22 March 2024 | Shaitan Regar

The National Food Security Act 2013 intends to ensure food security for weaker sections and faces formidable challenges in rural areas

Under the National Food Security Act, (NFSA) 2013, the Central Government is providing free rations to approximately 80 crore people in the country. It is believed that this scheme has addressed the issue of food security among the economically marginalised sections of our society. The Act legally entitles up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidised food grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System. However, even before this, the country has been providing ration to the economically weaker and marginalised sections through the Public Distribution System (PDS). Presented as a remedy to the food security concerns in a vast nation like India, such schemes frequently encounter hurdles in their execution at the grassroots level, particularly when communities lack familiarity with the digital aspects involved.

One such region is the Manoharpura village in the Udaipur district of Rajasthan. The village, located just 4 kilometres from the district headquarters, has an approximate population of around 1000. Mostly inhabited by scheduled castes and tribes, many families in this village have migrated to settle here, hoping to find employment opportunities in nearby cities. Most men work as daily wage labourers in the city, while women engage in household chores in urban homes. The major problem faced by this village is the lack of complete access to ration through the PDS. Due to migration, most families do not possess valid identity documents. Some families used to benefit from the system until two years ago. However, despite continuous efforts, the ration has not been resumed.

Mohan Harijan, a 45-year-old resident, shares his daily struggle of going to Udaipur City for labour. Being the sole earner in the family, they often face food scarcity when work is unavailable. Ration from the public distribution system was a blessing for his family. Still, with its discontinuation, managing meals for the family has become challenging. Despite multiple attempts, going through various offices, from e-Mitra to the Panchayat, Block, and the Collector’s office, he has not received any benefit, and his ration has not been reinstated. Every time, he is returned with new technical issues cited as reasons.

Mithun Kalbeliya, another resident of the village, mentions that his family has been residing in Manoharpura for the past 40 years. Earlier, they used to receive rations through the PDS, which helped avoid food scarcity issues. However, for the last two years, they have been deprived of this ration. Upon inquiry from the village Panchayat, he found out that their entire family’s Aadhar card was not linked to the PDS, leading to the discontinuation of the ration. “Since then, I have been making rounds of the office to get the Aadhaar cards for the children. However, because the children were born at home, their birth certificates could not be obtained, making it very difficult for their Aadhaar cards to be made. Until their Aadhar cards are ready, the ration cannot be resumed,” shares Mithun. 

On the other hand, Sona Devi and her family, despite having all the necessary documents and ration cards, are deprived of the benefits of the PDS. Sona Devi explains that her family migrated from Bihar to Manoharpura in search of employment ten years ago. Even with all the correct documents, they have not been receiving ration. She mentions that she has approached the Sarpanch, Labour Department, and even the Collector’s office, but despite her efforts, her family has not received ration to date.

The village of Manoharpura falls under the jurisdiction of Badgaon Panchayat. According to the village head, Sanjay Sharma, all necessary documents must be uploaded to the central government’s Food Security website for the distribution of rations. However, for the past three years, the uploading process on the website has been non-functional, causing significant challenges. Consequently, new ration cards are not being issued, and existing cardholders are unable to update their information. Even those whose Aadhaar cards have been updated are not receiving their ration entitlements due to the lack of uploads.

He has made numerous attempts by submitting applications to the District Collector’s office to address this issue. However, without a functional uploading process on the website, little progress can be made. He emphasized that beneficiaries whose documents are successfully uploaded are receiving their full ration entitlements.

Sona Devi emphasizes that, despite having all the required documents, many families in Manoharpura are deprived of the benefits of the public distribution system due to bureaucratic hurdles. These families, despite being eligible, are left out of the facilities. The question arises as to whether the digital aspects of such initiatives aimed at enhancing people’s lives are inadvertently excluding the needy from government benefits or if they are genuinely established to connect the underprivileged with these services. Who bears responsibility for this situation? 

(The author is a grassroots worker working with migrant and brick kiln labourers in Gujarat. Charkha Features)

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