More Free Food Should Soon Reach the Needy

Bharat Dogra

In the relief package announced the day after the declaration of lockdown in India in March, perhaps the most appreciated provision was for the distribution of free food grain. However, it was pointed out even at that time that an additional announcement should be made that even those who do not have formal ration cards should be able to get this food. A large number of vulnerable people unfortunately do not have ration cards and are unable to get their share of limited amounts of highly subsidized food grain to get which ration card is needed.

Inquiries made regarding the actual distribution of this grain indicate that this has been slow. In a letter dated April 13,  the Right to Food Campaign, which represents a large number of organizations and individuals working on this issue all over India, has said that the campaign has  received reports of widespread hunger from urban and rural areas across the country and also starvation deaths in Bihar, Hyderabad, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.

 On April 14 it has been announced that the lockdown has been extended till May 3. Hence there is a clear need to increase, on the basis of urgency, the quantity of free food grain and other staple food items to ensure that this reaches all needy and vulnerable people regardless of whether they have ration cards and whether they clear any biometric identification. The entire effort has to on the principle that no one should be hungry and this effort should not be hindered by lack of any document or identity requirement.

Several state governments have also announced their own contribution to free food in these times of great need. It should be made very clear that this is additional to what was announced in the central government package.

As a result of lockdown and earlier uncertain situation, mid-day meals and nutrition provided under ICDS and Sabala schemes could not be given for several weeks and may be unavailable further for some time. These food grains, pulses, edible oil which have been saved should be added to the stocks of free food available from the central and state government relief announcements.

It is good that several voluntary efforts have come forward to contribute free food for vulnerable sections. This is much appreciated. Caravan-e-Mohabbat organization, for example, has taken a big initiative in this context.

 Due to lockdown conditions many NGOs could not carry out their normal activities and hence recurring expenses such as those on diesel, travel etc. were avoided. This forced saving can be used to purchase and distribute food for vulnerable and needy people in their area. This can make available food to a large number of people without any additional funding being needed. Of course, additional funding can also be arranged wherever feasible.

The Right to Food Campaign letter quoted above dated April 13 has said that the relief announced by the union government could not reach many parts due to transport problems and other such factors. In this context this writer has prepared a scheme for providing advance payment to farmers for one fourth of their crop and then rushing this freshly harvested crop to the same village (or cluster of villages) to meet the needs of relief food, normal rations and various nutrition program. Immediate introduction of this scheme can ensure that urgently needed food can reach those who need this the most even in remote villages.

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements.  

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Apr 15, 2020

Bharat Dogra

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