Life has never been easy, but April threatens to be especially dire for the seven-member Lohra family in Sukruhuttu panchayat in Kanke block of Ranchi district.
While Kaleshwar Lohra, 55, a daily-wage labourer, has been bedridden for the last three months with an “infection” in both his legs, his daughter Sandhya, who worked as a household help in Ranchi city, 10 km away, is now home and without work.
The family is entitled to 35 kg of rice at Re 1 per kg per month under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana. In the wake of the COVID-19 containment lockdown, the Jharkhand government had announced “double ration” for April. That would have meant 70 kg rice for the Lohras. “But the ration dealer always takes a cut. This time, he gave 60 kg and said it’s for both April and May,” said Sandhya.
Her kitchen has an LPG cylinder, which the family got under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna, but it’s empty and Sandhya says now there’s no money for a refill. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of Rs 500 to every woman Jan Dhan account holder has not enthused Sandhya either. “The bank is far, how will we go to check?
Anyway, some people in the village checked. the money has not come,” she said.
On paper, there are enough social security schemes and entitlements to see the poor through a 21-day lockdown such as this – from free grains to disability and old-age pensions to LPG cylinders and anganwadi supplies. But on the ground, these schemes are hobbled by poor implementation, planning or just plain apathy.
Arpana Bara, a mother of three, says she has been running around to get her ration. After the Kanke block office suspended the licence of her ration dealer over “irregularities”, Bada recently got to know that the new dealer is around 5 km away. “How can I go there now?” she asks.
Most of the residents of Sukruhuttu North and South, two villages that make up the Sukruhuttu panchayat in Kanke block, are daily-wage labourers. While ration cards and other schemes were never streamlined, at least the men brought back meagre earnings and that saw them through. But now, with most of them home or without work, families in these parts stare at an uncertain future.
Manoj Lohra’s right leg had to amputated after he met with an accident in 2017. Sifting through his certificates at his one-room kuccha house, he says he has applied for the state government’s Rs 1,000 a month disability pension, but hasn’t heard from the block authorities yet. “I am tired. I haven’t been able to get my ration card made. Pension milta to thoda support ho jaata (If I had got my pension, it would have helped),” says the 36-year-old who is unemployed and dependent on his father.
Around 200 of the 1,800 families in both villages of Sukruhuttu do not have ration cards since the district’s quotas are full. Though the Jharkhand government had announced 10 kg rice to people whose applications for ration card are still pending, in Sukruhuttu, however, not many have heard of the announcement.
Not even panchayat samiti member Sushma Devi. “I will discuss this issue with the officers,” she said.
On the irregularities in the Public Distribution System, Chief Minister Hemant Soren told The Indian Express, “There is a taskforce already in place. A few dealers have been suspended too. We cannot straightaway cancel the licences as it will create a big problem in appointing new ones during the crisis. At present, 6-7 lakh are being fed through various kitchens on a daily basis and we will increase the number to 12 lakh.”
BDO Kanke Gyan Jaiswal, too, said that the government has been issuing “ration passes” for those who do not have ration cards. “Dal-bhaat kendras have also been started and we will be relaying the information to as many villages as we can. Rations to anganwadi centres will also be given.”
Development economist John Dreze, however, said a one-time10-kg foodgrain scheme for those without ration cards achieves little. “Excluded households should be integrated into the PDS, with regular monthly rations, at least for the duration of the crisis.”
One of the few schemes that seemed to be working was the mid-day meals for schools, with an equivalent amount of dry ration being supplied directly to households.
Vikram Nayak, a house painter, says he has got his ration for April but with eight mouths to feed, he doesn’t know how long that will last. Painting his own house because he has “nothing else to do”, Nayak says he wanted to build a toilet but will have to put that off for now.
While Jharkhand had announced itself Open Defecation Free in early 2019, on the ground, things are different. “We defecate in the fields. Some have put in their own to build toilets, some through Swachh Bharat Mission, but most people in the village don’t have toilets,” said Nayak.
He has heard the government’s messages on the need for personal hygiene and social distancing to “defeat” coronavirus. “Haan, suna hai. Mahamari hain (Yes, I have heard of it. It’s an epidemic),” he said.
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