Poor Dalit, Muslim families in Gujarat decry failure of Modi’s free ration scheme

Citizens wait for their turn to get ration (Photo credits: Ghulam Murtaza)

By Mahesh Trivedi, TwoCircles.net 

Gujarat: On 30 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his government’s free ration scheme would benefit 800 million cash-strapped people but the sorrowful screams of hundreds of hungry Dalits, Muslims and other have-nots in his home state of Gujarat remain a cry in the wilderness.

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Surveys, raids and right-to-information queries by non-government organizations, as well as inquiries made by this correspondent in Ahmedabad, revealed that fair-price shop owners and government officials with greasy palms have made a mess of the ambitious Rs 900-billion Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, world’s largest food security welfare scheme aimed at feeding the poorest Indians.

The result is that countless poverty-stricken citizens in the world heritage metropolis have not received their sizable free quota of grains and pulses, the worst-hit being Dalits and Muslims living in ramshackle shanties who are still eating their hearts out despite the country holding 100 million tons of food grains in its godowns.

According to a 759-home survey conducted in 64 slums, and helmed by urban planning experts Prof Darshini Mahadevia and Dr Renu Desai, an astounding 37 per cent of households had not received free 5 kg wheat/rice and 1 kg pulses for various reasons. The Dalit and Muslim families accounting for a good number in the 281 unlucky homes left to fend for themselves.

An autorickshaw driver Majhar Rangwala told TwoCircles.net that he had lost count of the trips he made in vain to a ration shop where the manager always gave him a stock reply: ‘No stock,’ even as the coronavirus continued to kill 10 people daily in Ahmedabad.

“Finally on July 12, when my wife almost begged him for the free ration as promised by even Gujarat government’s Anna Brahma Yojana, she was told to come after a week and collect the ration but only on payment of 50 per cent of the cost,” he said.

Wajra O’ Force Empowerment Foundation volunteers aided by policemen dole out food packets to the poor (Photo credits: Ruzan Khambatta)

The Gujarat government, as proved by the Consumer Affairs Ministry data, doled out only less than one per cent of the allocated food grains through the public distribution system and did not provide grains in June. But unfair practices by fair-price shops are not uncommon with many illiterate or gullible beneficiaries’ rightful share being siphoned off and sold in the black market.

Dalit housewife Rekha Parmar, a resident of a low-income settlement, said she was refused her promised free quota just because her ration card was a little torn and her scheduled caste neighbour was also sent back as her name was not visible on the card.

While Abeda Momin, a retired teacher, told TwoCircles.net that the ration shop was far away from her home.

Hema Solanki, a daily wager’s wife, said that the ration shop remained closed most of the time and when she did get her ration, she found that the quality of grains and pulses left much to be desired.

Vikalang Sahayak Kendra volunteers distributing ration kits
(Photo credits: Ghulam Murtaza)

Specially-abled Rajput Fajluddin and his wife, both using crutches, footed it to their far-off ration shop in Muslim-dominated shantytown in Vatva but they were pushed and felled by the milling crowd and the couple had to return home empty-handed.

After the beleaguered Gujarat government gave an assurance in the High Court to provide food grains to the needy and migrants from other states, Jatin Sheth, convener of the Nagrik Sashaktikaran Manch (NSM), a platform for citizen empowerment, went round colonies of hard-up citizens and sent a list of some 10,000 penniless families who were left out in the basket but only 2,000 of them received their supplies, and this only after several reminders.

“During the quick, haphazard government survey by school teachers, 250,000 down-and-out families were enrolled but our survey discovered that only 60,000 of them benefited from Modi’s free-ration scheme,” says Sheth.

Another social worker, Santoshsingh Rathod of Jagrut Yuva Seva Samiti (JYSS), dispatched a list of 400 migrant families in the lower-middle-class locality of Jashodanagar in Ahmedabad, but they never received their promised share of essential goods.

Rathod added, “Some 118,000 pre-teen students who were also deprived of nutritious food under the midday meal scheme due to closure of schools in the lockdown waited in vain for grains to be delivered to their homes.”

However, deputy food and civil supplies controller J B Desai told TwoCircles.net that licences of four ration shops were suspended following complaints against them and every cardholder would get free ration quota but admitted that his department had stopped providing grains to those who do not possess cards.

Indeed, with the government not intervening to mitigate the plight of the poor or its aid coming in dribs and drabs reduced to a trickle, it was left to NGOs like NSM and JYSS to lend a helping hand to the disadvantaged lot – by dashing off letters to authorities, staging demonstrations, raiding ration shops, passing round the hat for donations and even distributing food grains and cooked food to the poorest of the poor.

Social reformist Ruzan Khambatta’s Wajra O’ Force Empowerment Foundation, in association with the Gujarat Police and Manav Seva Mandal, also distributed 140,000 food packets to vagrants, panhandlers, have-nots and the homeless.

Jatin Sheth takes up cudgels for distressed citizens(Photo credits: Facebook)

Vikalang Sahayak Kendra, a voluntary organization headed by differently-abled Ghulam Murtaza (Babubhai) gifted hundreds of ration kits and fed about 500 underprivileged people daily with steaming hot meals for as many as 50 days during the pandemic.

The massive Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana will not percolate to the truly needy till honest-to-boot food inspectors and government officers keep a tab on unscrupulous fair-price shopkeepers. But till then, the poor will continue to struggle for essentials for bare survival.