GAYA (BIHAR)/GUMLA (JHARKHAND),SUVOJIT BAGCHI: It was about few tense minutes for nearly one thousand local residents gathered under a shamiana in Bharno block office in Gumla district, about 50 kilometres south of Ranchi. The crowd was awaiting the arrival of Sunil Kumar Keshari, the ration dealer of Bharno, who is allegedly not providing rations eligible households.
“Out of 200 residents of Pandarni village, only three can avail rations from Keshari’s shop,” said Ms Sukramani, a resident of Bharno.
Clearly it is a violation of National Food Security Act [NFSA], 2013, which has marked the eligibility and exclusion criteria. Ms Sukramani, like many others, is sufficiently eligible to receive rations under Priority household [five kilogram of food grain per person each month] or Antyodaya [35 kilogram per month for each household] but not covered under any.
An elaborate public hearing was conducted in Gaya and Gumla following a survey conducted in six States by the researchers in Department of Economics in Ranchi University and IIT, Delhi. Halfway through the public hearing in Bharno the women of Pandarni started waving their yellow ration cards.
“The card lapsed and no one bothered to check if we are getting ration for nearly a year,” Ms Sukramani said in presence of members of block and district administration. She nearly cried while talking to The Hindu later.
“Do I look like a rich woman who is not entitled for ration?” she asked standing outside the shamiana-canopy.
Inside the canopy the villagers exploded as Mr Keshari, the dealer, appeared. “Why are you not providing rations to these women,” asked Reetika Khera, an associate professor of IIT, Delhi, orchestrating the public hearing.
“Because the list that I have does not feature their names,” said Mr Keshari, who is the only dealer to have appeared in the hearing. Thus it revealed that there are two lists– one, with the eligible households and the other that missed many of those. Speaking to The Hindu Mr Keshari said he is not responsible for the anomaly. “It is provided to me by the government officials,” he said.
The mystery of two lists was partly explained by Suruchi, one of the student volunteers. “One list is based on whether eligible households have Aadhaar card and the other is a simple list of beneficiaries downloaded from the website. It seems, those who have Aadhaar and featured on NFSA list have received grain, while those without Aadhar have not,” she said. Being reminded of a Supreme Court order that Aadhaar card is not mandatory for eligibility under NFSA, the administration denied having distributed grain on basis of Aadhaar.
Mr Keshari, however, accepted that the card holders are given less than 35 kilogram of grain allotted under Antyodaya, while they are charged for the entire quantity. “We receive less from the district, while in papers we are allotted more…the problem is at the top,” he explained. Professor of Economics and one of the architects of NFSA, Jean Dreze, questioned the allegation.
“This allegation could have been true earlier but got very little validity now as most of the States, including Jharkhand, have initiated doorstep delivery up to the ration shops. So the dealer’s excuse is not acceptable,” Mr Dreze said.
The “last mile delivery” from the dealer to the household is just one of the multiple complaints that surfaced in the survey and the hearing. While the household coverage under Priority or Antyodaya increased under NFSA, it varies “significantly” across regions, a release by the organizers claimed. The survey– conducted in about 3600 households– underscores many problems.
“Missing persons on the ration cards was a problem…approximately, every one person in eight is left out of the ration card,” it said. Receiving less ration than entitlement, not receiving the quota of grain or issuance of cards with duplicate names were some of the other complaints.
An interesting, albeit corrupt, practise on part of the dealers was highlighted by Basanti Devi of Rakshi village in Banke Bazar block in Gaya district of Bihar.
“The dealer asks for all the coupon [of the year] on basis of which the entitlement is distributed. The dealer keeps coupons and distributes ration according to his whims,” Ms Devi said. The dealers are supposed to take one coupon per person per month. The Block Development Officer of Banke Bazar accepted that it is a problem and asked not to give the coupons. “We could be penalised in a bigger way if we do not give the coupens,” said Ms Devi.
However, in spite of its shortcomings NFSA has largely fulfilled its promises. “The purpose of NFSA was to make people aware of their entitlement– to make it simple and clear– and it was largely achieved. Moreover, household coverage has more than doubled since NFSA was passed and thus the purpose of having such an Act is served,” said Mr Dreze.