Im­per­fec­tions of a per­fect model del

Ch­hat­tis­garh's much ap­pre­ci­ated pub­lic dis­tri­bu­tion scheme is fall­ing apart due to cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - ANU­PAM CHAKRAVARTTY |

The crit­i­cally ac­claimedmed pub­lic dis­tri­bu­tion scheme me in Ch­hat­tis­garh is crum­bling un­der­n­der the weight of mis­man­age­ment­ment

AS CH­HAT­TIS­GARH pre­pares for pan­chayat elec­tion at the end of the year, the fate of ra­tion card hold­ers in the state is in limbo. Dur­ing a ver­i­fi­ca­tion drive in July-Au­gust, the state gov­ern­ment found almost 1.3 mil­lion “un­nec­es­sary” ra­tion cards in the pos­ses­sion of peo­ple. Th­ese cards have been taken back by the gov­ern­ment and peo­ple are be­ing re­fused sup­plies of daily es­sen­tials. No won­der “ver­i­fi­ca­tion” has be­come a dreaded word among the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the pub­lic dis­tri­bu­tion scheme (pds), a largely suc­cess­ful model of food se­cu­rity in the coun­try.

“We had to sur­ren­der our cards to the gov­ern­ment func­tionar­ies dur­ing satya­pan (ver­i­fi­ca­tion). While lists avail­able with fair price shops still show our names, we do not get any ra­tion.As a re­sult, we have to buy the same com­modi­ties from the open mar­ket at

20 per kg,10 times more than the sub­sidised ` rate,” says Bas­matiya Devi, a 65-year-old woman from Tirkela vil­lage in Ch­hat­tis­garh’s Sur­guja dis­trict, where a large num­ber of cards were re­called.

Even be­fore pds took the form of an Act at the na­tional level, it ac­quired the sta­tus of a po­lit­i­cal move­ment in Ch­hat­tis­garh. In 2007,Congress leader Ajit Jogi who took up the poor per­for­mance of pds in his cam­paign won the Kota Assem­bly by-elec­tion by a huge mar­gin, de­feat­ing the can­di­date of the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp), which was in power in the state. Alarmed at los­ing ground to Congress, Chief Min­is­ter Ra­man Singh in­volved a bat­tery of bu­reau­crats to re­form the food dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem.In 2012,the ad­min­is­tra­tion passed the Ch­hat­tis­garh Food Se­cu­rity Act un­der which food­grains (rice, wheat and mil­let) up to 35 kgs are sold at sub­sidised rates to fam­i­lies liv­ing be­low the poverty line (bpl) and dis­trib­uted ra­tion cards so that peo­ple could avail the ben­e­fits. With this, Ch­hat­tis­garh be­came the only state in In­dia to have its own food se­cu­rity law a year be­fore the Na­tional Food Se­cu­rity Act came into ex­is­tence in Septem­ber 2013.

With the pass­ing of a na­tional Act, the Ch­hat­tis­garh Assem­bly elec­tions in De­cem­ber 2013 were fought around strength­en­ing food se­cu­rity for the 5.6 mil­lion house­holds in the tribal-dom­i­nated state. bjp re­tained power and con­tin­ued with pds. It went a step fur­ther and cre­ated Cen­tralised On­line Real-Time Elec­tronic pds, or corepds—a first in In­dia—which al­lowed ben­e­fi­cia­ries porta­bil­ity to buy food­grains from any fair price shop with the help of a smart ra­tion card (see ‘Is this smart pds?’ on p17). More than five mil­lion bpl fam­i­lies in the state have ben­e­fited from this scheme.

But its suc­cess seems to be short-lived. With cor­rup­tion creep­ing into the state’s pds, hailed as a model by the Supreme Court, and the gov­ern­ment scram­bling with its man­age­ment, the ro­bust food se­cu­rity mech­a­nism is crum­bling un­der its own weight.

On the one hand, the gov­ern­ment has de­cided to give sub­sidy to a third of the state's farm­ers, on the other it has re­called the ra­tion cards of 1.3 mil­lion PDS ben­e­fi­cia­ries

Thorns in a per­fect model

Prob­lems with Ch­hat­tis­garh’s famed pds started with the dis­tri­bu­tion of ra­tion cards. While of­fi­cial cen­sus showed 5.6 mil­lion house­holds in the state, more than 7 mil­lion ra­tion cards were is­sued at the start of 2013. The law recog­nises “house­hold” as a fam­ily with a common kitchen, as op­posed to the Cen­sus def­i­ni­tion.When Singh re­turned to power, he faced the daunt­ing task of man­ag­ing 7 mil­lion ben­e­fi­cia­ries of pds.

Ac­cord­ing to Ra­jiv Jaiswal, di­rec­tor for pds in Ch­hat­tis­garh, the gov­ern­ment re­ceived many com­plaints about bo­gus ra­tion cards from the gram pan­chay­ats and mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils. “There was a sud­den surge in the num­ber of bpl house­holds, bring­ing down all the in­di­ca­tors of growth.So we felt the need to ver­ify it,” he says. The re­sult: 1.3 mil­lion fake ra­tion cards were iden­ti­fied, which were re­called by the gov­ern­ment. To­wards the end of Au­gust, mu­nic­i­pal and gov­ern­ment of­fices in the state were flooded with ap­pli­ca­tions of more than 0.3 mil­lion pds ben­e­fi­cia­ries, re­quest­ing the gov­ern­ment not to re­call their cards.

Un­cer­tain days ahead

Umesh Baghel works as a cob­bler in San­jay Na­gar lo­cal­ity of Raipur.He has to support a fam­ily of five. Umesh was told by the sur­vey­ors that he was put in the Above Poverty Line (apl) list. He does not un­der­stand why he was put in the apl cat­e­gory when he barely makes 40 a day.He

` now re­lies on his sis­ter Lata to bring him ra­tion. “His wife works as a do­mes­tic help and earns barely 2,000 a month while he

` earns 40 a day. Which cat­e­gory should he be

` in?” asks Lata.

Pa­trosh and Mary Kar­ketta of Tirkela have sim­i­lar woes. Their ra­tion card was can­celled on the ground that their son works in the In­dian Army and, hence, they do not fall in the bpl cat­e­gory. With­out the ra­tion card, the cou­ple has been buy­ing es­sen­tial sup­plies from the open mar­ket for the past four months. Gan­garam Praikra, a state-level co­or­di­na­tor for the Right To Food cam­paign work­ing with the non-profit Chau­pal, says that ra­tion cards of older cou­ples or sin­gle par­ents were re­called in many places when it was found that their chil­dren were em­ployed in gov­ern­ment jobs.

Be­fore things took an ugly turn, Ch­hat­tis­garh’s food se­cu­rity frame­work un­der pds was work­ing well. A study by the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy-Delhi ear­lier this year found that 63 per cent of the de­liv­er­ies to fair price shops from the state’s ware­houses were made within a week’s time from the day the de­mand was made to re­plen­ish the stocks. Es­ti­mates pre­pared by the state gov­ern­ment show that the num­ber of trips made by a ben­e­fi­ciary to a fair price shop was re­duced to two com­pared to 4-5 times prior to the adop­tion of corepds. Mean­while, the com­mis­sion for the own­ers of fair price shops was in­creased from 10 per cent to 25 per cent of the to­tal sales, while ex­tend­ing in­ter­est-free credit fa­cil­i­ties to the ben­e­fi­cia­ries. After the ver­i­fi­ca­tion drive, porta­bil­ity of the smart ra­tion cards was sus­pended, says Sangeeta Sahu, co­or­di­na­tor for the Right to Food cam­paign in the cap­i­tal city Raipur.

Ra­tion card hold­ers in Ch­hat­tis­garh are be­ing re­fused food­grains by fair price shop own­ers, forc­ing them to buy es­sen­tial com­modi­ties from the open mar­ket at a higher price

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