The government of Jharkhand has announced, as part of its relief measures, that eligible households left out of the public distribution system (PDS) would receive 10 kg of foodgrain if they have applied for a ration card. An impression has been created that this would be 10 kg per month. In fact, none of this is happening.

Instead, mukhiyas (gram panchayat heads) have been instructed to give 10 kg of foodgrain to needy households from their contingency fund of Rs 10,000. This contingency fund existed earlier – it cannot be counted as a relief measure. Further, this fund is far too small to provide even a one-off ration of 10 kg to the 7 lakh excluded households who have applied for a ration card. No provision has been made for integrating excluded households into the PDS during this crisis.

The right to food campaign (Jharkhand) calls on the Jharkhand government to cover all these households under the PDS, with regular monthly rations at NFSA levels. The government should also take extensive measures to strengthen the public distribution system in this time of crisis.

The crisis is likely to last for months, even if the lockdown ends soon. During this period, millions of households will depend on government support (especially the PDS and cash transfers) for their survival. In this situation, it is extremely important to ensure that the PDS functions well and covers all vulnerable households. Unfortunately, the government of Jharkhand has done little so far beyond routine measures.

Aside from covering excluded households, many other PDS-related measures are urgently required, such as:

· Active steps should be taken to implement the central government’s commitment to double PDS rations for the next three months. So far, no orders have been issued to that effect. This month (April), dealers have been instructed to distribute double rations, but as of now this consists of advance rations for April and May, not double rations. Even advance rations are not being distributed this month in many places.

· Urgent measures are required to ensure that the PDS functions well. For instance, public employees (and even police personnel, if necessary, in some areas) should be instructed to supervise distribution at ration shops so that there is no cheating.

· Special grievance-redressal facilities should be put in place so that complaints are addressed swiftly and strict action is taken against corrupt dealers and government officials. Grievance redressal agencies should include agencies independent of the food department.

Looking beyond the PDS, the government of Jharkhand should explicitly commit itself to a comprehensive relief package, not just for the lockdown period but the next six months at the very least. At the moment, it is acting as if the crisis were going to end with the lockdown. The token measures spelt out by the Chief Minister yesterday, in his letter (attached) addressed to elected representatives and Deputy Commissioners, do not serve the purpose at all.

For more information, please contact rtfcjharkhand@gmail.com


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