The only way to ensure that nobody is excluded from the public distribution system (PDS) is to universalise it and open it up for everyone who wants ration. Immediate arrangements should be made to make the PDS universal as well as to include dal and edible oils as part of the monthly entitlements. It is unacceptable if even a single person dies of starvation in our country when the godowns are overflowing, said Right to Food Campaign (RFC) activists.

While welcoming the Centre’s decision to extend the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for five months, activists said they were are anguished that no policies have been announced for those without ration cards or those included by State governments through State schemes.

“Most often it is the poorest and most marginalised who are left out of the PDS for not possessing the necessary documents to acquire a ration card. Even the Atmanirbhar package which included free rations for an additional 8 crore people for two months has not been extended,” stated RFC in a statement.

Foodgrains for all

Activists added that at a time when foodgrain stocks are at a record high and people are facing the real possibility of hunger and starvation, the government should have universalised the PDS and provided it even for those without a ration card.

“The migrant worker crisis has exposed the porousness of our social security system and the lack of resilience among the working class to cope with such economic shocks. Most migrant workers do not possess ration cards and, therefore, will not benefit from this scheme,” activists said.

Activists claimed that the One Nation One Ration Card (ONOC) would not solve the problem of access to foodgrains for those who are excluded from the PDS.

Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MKAAM) – a forum for Women Farmers' Rights in Maharashtra — recently conducted a study across 17 districts of Maharashtra to assess the impact of the lockdown on single women engaged in cultivation and working as wage labourers. It found that PDS has only been able to support by way of mainly wheat and rice.

Skipping meals

“Most of the other requirements of oil, vegetables, pulses had to be purchased in the open market. With no cash in hand and increased prices, this has been a bit difficult for the women,” said Seema Kulkarni of MKAAM. About 10 per cent women who were surveyed skipped one meal in a day during the lockdown, while 7 per cent skipped two meals, the survey revealed. The demand to expand PDS to include nutritious food such as cereals, including jowar, bajra and pulses and dals, oil, sugar, is gaining momentum.

Over 10 crore people have been excluded from the PDS as the outdated 2011 Census data is being used to calculate State-wise National Food Security Act (NFSA) coverage, according to economists Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera.

Khera insisted that there is a need to go beyond the NFSA. “Many gig economy workers, street vendors, auto and taxi drivers etc, who otherwise managed on their own, are in need of support right now and our food stocks allow us to expand the PDS,” she said.