Kolkata: A team from Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand Chapter met Chief Minister Hemant Soren and Food Minister Rameshwar Uraon to alert them of the imminent danger of hunger and starvation in the state due to the on-going lockdown.
After meeting CM Soren, the team comprising prominent economist Jean Dreze, Asharfi Nand Prasad, Balram, Siraj Dutta, Sunil Minz and Varsha Poddar, shared the letter with the chief minister, which claimed that the government’s plan to universalise public distribution system (PDS), was not happening in the state.
Claims of universalizing the public distribution system
The letter clearly stated, “We are writing to alert you about the imminent danger of hunger and starvation in Jharkhand in the absence of any effective provision for the delivery of food rations to households without ration cards.”
It added, “Jharkhand government’s claim to “universalize” the public distribution system, is not happening.”
The letter to CM also pointed out the weak provision of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), “A weak provision does exist for delivering 10 kg of foodgrain per month (for two months) to NFSA-eligible households that do not have a ration card. However, the application process is complicated and most people are not aware of it. Numerous field reports suggest that this provision covers just a small fraction of households without ration card.”
Emergency Ration Card
According to the activists, about 8 lakh households in Jharkhand have applied for a ration card and most of them are likely to be poor households. In this crisis, there is no time to verify each applicant’s eligibility under NFSA (and the fact that it has not been done earlier is the government’s responsibility).
Therefore, they urged the government to provide emergency ration cards to the 8 lakh households without further delay, for an initial period of at least one year.
They maintained that to make this plan work, even if the government needed to purchase rice from the Food Cooperation of India (FCI) at Rs 22 per Kg, then it should go ahead with it, as it would cost only Rs 44 crore per month to provide 25 kg of free food grain to these 8 lakh households on an average.
“We would also suggest the government to extend same provision to other households that do not have a ration card, based on self-declaration of eligibility under Jharkhand’s NFSA eligibility criteria,” added the letter.
Special foodgrain allocation to Jharkhand
They further advised the Jhkarkhand government to prevail on the central government to provide a special food grain allocation to Jharkhand, free of cost, so that the PDS can be universalized in rural areas and urban slums, as per NFSA entitlements, for at least a year.
While meeting the Food Minister, the team also gave a five-point suggestion regarding providing food grain to all the needful households in Jharkhand. At the end of the meeting they expressed happiness over Jharkhand government’s decision to issue of 10 lakh additional ration cards. However, the team stressed on the fact that this initiative should be executed as soon as possible.