Uttar Pradesh Fails to Ensure Food Security Amidst Rising Hunger

A village in the Kushinagar lives on the brink of malnourishment as the Public Distribution System fails to deliver to the most disenfranchised. Or, fails to ensure last mile service delivery.

India ranks 103 out of 119 countries on this year’s Global Hunger Index report which categories India under the ‘serious’ category and its score close to the ‘alarming’ category. The index is based on four key indicators -- undernourishment, child mortality, child wasting and child stunting.

Both central and state governments run schemes to counter rising hunger through the Public Distribution System which guarantees households, both below and above the poverty line monthly subsidised ration. The government also runs targeted schemes for children and pregnant and lactating women through the Integrated Child Development Services, and most recently, through the Poshan Abhiyan. But it is ground-level implementation where schemes often run into roadblocks. A visit to  Kasya, in Kushinagar district, reveals the lapses in last mile service delivery.

“The PDS dealer said that we are not getting ration because our names have been struck off the list and the list has not been updated yet,” says Shanti, whose family hasn’t received ration since June this year. Shanti Devi’s family of five is recognised as a Priority Household (PHH) under the Public Distribution System (PDS).

PHH card holders are entitled to five kilograms of foodgrain per member per family at the rate of three rupees per kilogram of rice, two rupees for wheat and one rupee for coarse grains. Without subsidised ration supply, the families in Kushinagar are spending up to 20 rupees per kilogram of rice. The PHH card is a replacement for the BPL card issued to households living below the poverty line. Under the new definition, households headed by a single women, widows, persons with disabilities and households comprising agricultural labourers who meet the annual income cap  are eligible for PHH cards. Exclusion criteria like the ownership of assets, occupation and tax brackets also apply to both rural and urban areas.

Shanti Devi’s family is not the only one bearing the brunt of irregularities in the PDS records. Jannat Bano, an activist from Kushinagar, says that irregularities are common. “If there are 10-20 members in a family, only four of them may have their names on the PHH list, and even out of those four members, only two may actually get the ration,” she says.

Bano adds that there at least 50 people in the area whose ration cards have not been made by the PDS officials yet. This is not uncommon either; in Sitapur, another district in Uttar Pradesh, Community Correspondent Harishankar Gupta reported that 17 families have been waiting for their ration cards for ten years now. In yet another case, this time from Chhattisgarh, Community Correspondent Reena Ramteke found that ration shops don’t open altogether.

The residents of Kushinagar, especially the women, have approached various persons in positions of authority, starting from the village head right up to the Block Development Officer, but to no avail. When Madhuri and the community met the PDS dealer in September, he told them that the ration shop was facing a shortage of supplies and that they would start to distribute the ration in a month. But two months later, the ration is still not reaching people’s homes.

To solve the problems that lead to irregularity in records and to curb corruption in the scheme, a range of reforms have been proposed, including end to end computerisation and automation of the ration shops. As of now, ration cards are not portable, resulting in a loss for those who migrate because of work, marriage or otherwise; portability is another proposed reform and has been tested by the Chhattisgarh government. Another reform, a widely criticised one, has been the direct benefit transfer, tested in states like Jharkhand. For families that rely on daily wages for their sustenance, giving up a day’s work to wait in line at a bank, sometimes only to be turned away, direct benefit transfers are of no use. The scheme should instead focus on efficient ration shops.

To support the community in Kasya, Kushinagar, call the Sub-Divisional Magistrate at +91- 9454416284 and urge him to look into the PDS irregularities.

Video by Community Correspondent Madhuri Chauhan

Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team

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