In the first innovation of its kind to help larger numbers of people access government benefits during the pandemic lockdown, the Pune Zilla Parishad will provide temporary ‘ration cards’ to more than 80,000 undocumented people in the district, so they can receive foodgrains under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
The scheme, which will use one-time Aadhaar authentication, will also enable the home delivery of grains at the gram panchayat level, and will include individuals belonging to the Primitive Tribes and the transgender community who are often left out of the ambit of such benefits.
The delivery of benefits including PDS grain to migrants trapped by the lockdown, and to those who are unable to provide documents, has been a major concern across states. In the urban areas, local self government bodies in several places have been taking steps to provide both cooked meals and grains to people.
Ayush Prasad, chief executive officer of the Zilla Parishad, told The Indian Express that the gram panchayat will actively seek out people from outside the district or the state for targeted delivery of PDS benefit.
Preliminary surveys have found that there are more than 80,000 such individuals in the district, Prasad said. Some of them are holders of ration cards from other states or districts, while others do not have any such document.
The Zilla Parishad plans to use Aadhaar-based authentication to open accounts for these people with the India Post Payments Bank. “This takes less than a minute, and Pune district has very few shadow areas where there are no post offices,” Prasad said.
The job of identifying the beneficiaries has been given to the village police patil, who maintains records of outsiders in a register. Under the National Food Security Act, the gram sabha has the right to identify beneficiaries — however, in the current situation when the gram sabha is not functional, a committee of three viz., the gram panchayat’s sarpanch, a member of the gram sabha, and the local police patil will identify them.
“The only verification that will be carried out is that of the kitchen of the beneficiary to prove that they qualify for the scheme,” Prasad said.
The Zilla Parishad CEO said that once the biometric Aadhaar-based link is established and the account is opened, this would serve as the only authentication that will be needed for these undocumented people to draw rations from the PDS system. “The gram panchyats will home-deliver the rations to avoid crowding,” Prasad said. An estimated 120 tonnes of grains will be distributed, he said.
According to Prasad, the scheme will widen and deepen the scope and reach of the Sharad Bhojan Yojana, under which cooked meals are provided to people in Pune district at concessional rates. The Sharad Bhojan Yojana is modelled after the state government’s flagship Shiv Bhojan Yojana, which serves subsidised meals to the poor.
The Zilla Parishad also intends to home-deliver Sharad Bhojan meals to those who do not have the capacity to cook in the district.
In an article published in The Indian Express on April 16, Nobel Laureates Amartya Sen and Abhijit Banerjee, and former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had suggested that temporary ration cards should be issued to enable the undocumented to draw rations through the PDS system. This was among the ways in which the most vulnerable sections of society could be protected, the three economists had said.
The Janakidevi Bajaj Gram Vikas Sansthan, the CSR wing of the Bajaj Group, will be the corporate CSR partner of the Zilla Parishad for the scheme. Pankaj Ballabh, general manager of the Sansthan, said they have also partnered with the Anna Mitra programme of ISKCON, which provides cooked meals to the stranded in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporations.
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