Dying for ration: 7-year wait for Jharkhand couple to receive PDS benefits

Village residents say ration cards of many cancelled, including those from Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Monday 26 December 2022
Anar Devi and her husband Sitaram Bhuiyan show their yellow ration card. They last received ration in December 2015. Photo: Vikas Choudhary__

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led central government recently announced free ration to 813.5 million poor people under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for one year. However, a ground report by Down To Earth looks into whether beneficiaries have received Public Distribution System (PDS) benefits under existing schemes. 

DTE visited several areas in the first fortnight of December, including a tribal village in Jharkhand, to know the ground reality. 

NFSA was implemented in 2013 and ration was given out at subsidised rates under the Act until now. The free ration was being distributed under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana and the new scheme will kick in with the new year. 

Read more: Jharkhand: Farmers wait through the night to apply for drought relief scheme

Anar Devi lives in a village about 1,200 kilometres from the national capital Delhi. Her home is in Sarhua village, Palamu district’s Ramgarh block. Her husband, Sitaram Bhuiyan, owns farmland that is smaller than an acre. 

The two belong to Other Backward Classes (OBC) category and have a yellow ration card, which makes them eligible for ration under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana.

Coarse cereals, wheat and rice are available at highly subsidised rates of Re 1, Rs 2 and Rs 3, respectively, under Antyodaya Anna Yojana for yellow ration card holders. However, the couple has been waiting to receive food grains for the last seven years. 

Thanks to the drought this year, Devi and her husband often go to bed hungry and are surviving on a meal a day. Bhuiyan cultivates corn, paddy and vegetables on 0.8 acres of land. But could not grow a single grain this year due to the drought. 

He has taken to collecting and drying wild herbs from the nearby forest. He sells it in a nearby market so the couple can eat at least a meal a day. 

“I have five sons and all of them left the village in search of work. They would have starved in the village,” Devi said. 

Her old ration card was filled, which she showed DTE. After the last entry of December 2015, she neither received food grains nor a new ration card. 

She doesn’t understand the English word “delete”, but said her ration card has been “deleted”. “People say that their ration card has been “deleted”. Now they will get ration through green ration card, but till now they have not started getting ration,” she said.

The government of Jharkhand is giving a green ration card to families living below the poverty line. Antyodaya Anna Yojana gives families with this card 35 kilogrammes of ration, while Priority Household Households (PHH) families are given 5 kg per member.

Read more: Monsoon 2022: Why a drought wasn’t declared in 4 states with drought-like conditions

DTE found also had an online application slip for Devi’s green ration card. On checking the number on the website of Department of Food, Public Distribution and Consumer Affairs, Jharkhand government, it was found that her application had been accepted. 

However, Devi is yet to receive any ration. 

“During the COVID-19-induced lockdown, almost all the children working outside the village returned to their homes, but the grandchildren did not because they were afraid of starving to death in the village!” she said in tears.

“If we had received ration, we would be able to eat two meals a day,” said Bhuinya, pounding a herb named Jahar Mahura he gathered from the forest. Our sons would also have been living with us here, he added. 

Sarhua has merely 300 residents, but eight of the families said their ration cards had been “cancelled”. Those who do receive it say they do not get the full amount. 

Faguni Devi is surviving on the goodwill of other villagers. Photo: Vikas Choudhary

Faguni Devi is surviving on the goodwill of other villagers. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

Faguni Devi, who is almost 70 years old, said she lives all alone with no one to take care of her. She has received ration only twice since January. 

As she belongs to the Korba tribe, she gets a pension but hasn’t received it for the last 18 months. She is also disabled, so she can’t cultivate crops and is surviving solely on the goodwill of other villagers. 

“The yellow ration cards of many Particularly Vulnerable Tribal community members in Ramgarh block have been cancelled,” said villager Lucas Korba who is associated with the farmers’ group Jharkhand Mazdoor Kisan Morcha.

I have information about the cancellation of about 380 ration cards, he added.

People are not even informed about their cards being cancelled, said Korba. “When people do not get any ration, they go to officials. They are then told to apply for green ration cards issued by the Jharkhand government,” he said. 

Read more: Kharif sowing period almost over, but huge deficit for paddy and pulses

People spend Rs 250 to 300 rupees in the application process. There are many families who do not even have enough money to apply, he added. 

Members of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG), whose starvation deaths have been in the news, also report their ration cards being cancelled. 

The government had decided to give the families of these tribal members ration for free under the PVTG Postman scheme in the financial year 2017-2018. 

At that time, there were 68,731 beneficiary families in the 168 blocks of 24 districts in the state. These families are given ration under the Antodaya Anna Yojana.

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