Even though the Centre has extended the free grain distribution scheme for ration card holders, under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), by almost five months till November, the scheme for providing food grains to the underprivileged- launched in 1997- is yet to fully percolate and make its way to those actually in need.
The underprivileged residents of the city, trying to access the rations that are rightfully theirs, are faced with not only one but many obstacles. The local politics at slum colonies, issues with online data updating and recklessness by food inspectors and government officers in fulfilling their on-ground duties of keeping a check on unauthorised distribution, hoarding and collection of fee contribute to the prime reasons for the corruption remaining unchecked under the scheme.
While the said problems may have been around for long, their wrath has never been more malefic as the indigent struggle to earn a day’s pay amid a raging pandemic coupled with high unemployment and a shortage of daily wage jobs.
The Indian Express reached out to several families of Panchkula’s various villages and slums, including Rajiv Colony, Nada Sahib village, Kharak Mangoli, Indira Colony, Buddanpur and Abheypur, almost all of whom had similar stories of struggling with corruption to get the ration of their share.
A 35-year-old woman, resident of Kharak Mangoli, with a family of six has not received even a kilogram of ration amid the lockdown, she alleges. “I had a BPL ration card which I lost. I applied for a duplicate which was never made. I was then issued a green ration card which offers very less amount of rations. I was not given a ration token as well and when I did go to my nearby depot holder, I was denied ration despite my green card,” she says, not wanting to be identified for the fear of repercussions by local depot holder. She further adds that she has been to the ration card office several times, but in vain. Before the lockdown hit them, her husband worked as a daily wager. He had been jobless for months, when recently, he begun selling vegetables to make ends meet. “There are some nights when we have to choose between feeding ourselves or feeding our children,” she says.
In most of the areas, depot holders, who manage the day-to-day affairs of the colonies, were given the task of issuing tokens to those who did not have a ration card. “The distribution of tokens were biased. Some houses have 4-5, some have none. A person’s chance to get a token depends on their connection with ASHA workers, police officials and food inspectors,” says a 30-year-old resident of Kharak Mangoli, refusing to be identified.
As per a police official in the intelligence wing, depot holders have approached him time and again, offering him free rations in return for support and a blind eye towards small cases and investigations. “I have been offered rations at almost negligible rates, sometimes even for free. Though I have never taken them, I know several who have. It is how local politics works,” he says, wanting to remain anonymous.
Another 30-year-old resident of Billah village, who has a family of seven including three children, husband, father-in-law and a brother-in-law, says that even though she owns a ration card, she has never been given the full ration amount. “The ration card was issued to us in 2007. We are now a family of seven but never did we get all 35 kgs of ration as the scheme provides for us. We do not say or do anything for the fear of losing out on what we get. Last month we were given only 28 kgs. We try to get by with whatever we get,” she says, adding, “Madam sarkaari kaam to ese hi hota hai.”
Upon talking to depot holders, another problem came to light. “A gap of almost 400 quintals of rations has been reported in Panchkula, this month itself. All depot holders have got almost 10-40 quintals less ration each. But the rations work like a food buffet, all those who first reach to collect the ration get them while all the others have to go back empty-handed. We cannot do anything about it,” says Santosh Kumar, a depot holder in Abheypur. On allegations of distributing less rations, he says, “It is impossible to do that. It is all online now and only through a ration card holder’s fingerprint can we distribute the rations.”
As many as 137 ration depots are functional in Panchkula district with 47,000 registered beneficiaries (card holders). As many as 11 officers, including two AFSOs (Assistant Food and Supplies Officer), four food inspectors and three sub-inspectors have been given the task to keep a check on such violations, says DFSO Surinder Arora, adding that they have “received no complaints of any wrongdoing in the district in the matter.”
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