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Thursday, October 22, 2020

In Covid time, freeze on new food security beneficiaries in Rajasthan

The government had announced 5 kg of wheat per person and 1 kg of gram per family under NFSA as pandemic relief every month until November.

Written by Deep Mukherjee | Jaipur | Updated: October 2, 2020 10:54:38 am
Some 52 lakh people who are not covered under NFSA have been given free foodgrains once.

For the past several months, Durga Ram, a labourer in Jaipur, has been trying to enroll for free foodgrains under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013. “Each time, people at the e-mitra kiosks say new names are not being added, and the portal is shut,” he said.

Ram, who is in his mid-40s and belongs to the nomadic Banjara community, said work has been scarce since the lockdown was imposed, and he makes only Rs 300-400 on the days that he gets any. “Getting some wheat would have helped my family,” he said.

The father of two children is among many poor people who have been seeking grain under the NFSA and Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), but the state government has stopped adding new beneficiaries.

The government had announced 5 kg of wheat per person and 1 kg of gram per family under NFSA as pandemic relief every month until November. Since NFSA beneficiaries are entitled to the same amount of free grains under PMGKAY, they would effectively get 10 kg of wheat (or 5 kg each of wheat and rice) per person and 2 kg of gram per family every month.

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Officials at the Rajasthan Food and Civil Supplies Department, and e-mitra operators who are supposed to facilitate online applications, said the addition of new names to the NFSA list has been on hold for the past several months.

“Online applications for inclusion in NFSA are closed. People keep coming to us, and we turn them away,” Deepak Verma, the owner of an e-mitra kiosk in Hanumangarh district told The Indian Express.

A senior Food and Civil Supplies Department official said no names were being added to the list because the number of beneficiaries had crossed the ceiling imposed by the Centre.

“The addition of new NFSA beneficiaries in the state is currently closed as we have already exceeded the limit set by the Government of India. The government’s ceiling is 4.46 crore people for Rajasthan, while we already have around 4.82 crore people covered under the NFSA,” Ashok Kumar Sankhla, deputy commissioner and deputy secretary (I), Food and Civil Supplies Department, said.

Some 52 lakh people who are not covered under NFSA have been given free foodgrains once, and the government plans to repeat the exercise, the officer said.

Durga Ram had been a beneficiary of this one-time relief from the government.

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There have been complaints that even those who made it to the list approved by their district administrations before the lockdown in late March are not receiving the free rations.

On March 12 for example, a court in Kota ordered the inclusion of one Yasmin Bano in the NFSA list after an inquiry by the municipal corporation found her eligible. The family, however, says they are yet to receive any grains.

“I have made numerous visits to the ration shop near our home, but they keep telling us we are not entitled… It has become difficult to make ends meet during this pandemic,” Bano’s husband Feroze Khan, who works at an automobile repair shop, said.

The sub-divisional officer’s (SDO’s) order names Khan and their two children as Bano’s family. They received the state government’s one-time relief for non-NFSA families.

“Even if we sanction additions to the NFSA list at our end, it (distribution of free foodgrains) can’t be started as the government has closed the portal for now,” Kota SDO Mohanlal Pratihar said.

Chandrakala Sharma, state coordinator, Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan, which works for unmarried, widowed, divorced, and abandoned women, said: “People such as labourers, those in the unorganised sector, or single women from economically weak backgrounds, who are sole breadwinners in their families, are in dire need of government assistance.”

Food and Civil Supplies Department officials said an exercise to remove duplicate ration cards and non-eligible individuals from the NFSA list is underway, and that a decision on reopening enrolments would be taken subsequently.

The Indian Express reported in August that over 60 lakh new beneficiaries had been added under NFSA since March in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura, Manipur, and J&K. In Rajasthan however, new additions have been closed since May, Sankhla said.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April, asking him for an extra 30,000 tonnes of wheat under the state’s NFSA quota every month, taking the current population into consideration.

Gehlot had said that the Centre allocates 2.32 lakh tonnes of wheat every month for 4.46 crore people after taking the state’s 2011 population of 6.86 crore as the base, and fixing 53 per cent and 69 per cent ceilings in the urban and rural areas respectively. However, as of 2019, the state’s population was estimated to be 7.74 crore, and the number of people under the NFSA’s ambit 5.04 crore, the Chief Minister had said.

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