Dying for ration: Deep in debt, Rajasthan villagers sell animals

Many across the state say received no ration for years; no help from authorities 

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Friday 23 December 2022
Destitute villagers across Rajasthan have been running from pillar to post to get their due rations. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware__

Villagers across Rajasthan have taken to selling livestock and are drowning in debt — some owing lakhs to private lenders — to survive. Many of these penniless residents say they have not received any Public Distribution System (PDS) benefits from the state government for months and even years. 

The scheme aims to assist the economically weaker section of society and bail them out of poverty. However, many needy and eligible ration card holders across the state report being turned away from PDS shops and waiting to receive rations for a long time. 

Read more: Dying for ration: Denied full benefits, 62-year-old widow eats a meal a day to survive

Rana Ram, a below-poverty line (BPL) ration card holder under the government scheme, has not received any benefits since 2015.

 “I removed my name from my father’s ration card to apply for a new one after I got married. I received a card but was not issued the food supply,” said the resident of Baramsar village, about 15 km from Jaisalmer.

His family of three, including his wife and a four-year-old child, depend on his father’s share of ration. The daily wager said it is not enough and he looks for odd jobs just so his family can survive.

The same story continues in Bandha village, about 46 km away from Jaisalmer. Lakshmi was earlier a homemaker. But financial conditions worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic for her family. 

With no stable income, she had to take to daily wage jobs to not go hungry. She also has two children, aged 12 and 17 years. 

Lakshmi’s children study on a government scholarship, but having no extra money is making it hard to continue their education. “We used to live a debt-free life, but now our children’s future is endangered. I fear they may have to quit their studies and start working now,” she added.

Birdharam from the same village has started selling off his goats slowly to survive. 

“I stopped receiving ration in 2016 after the procuring process went online. The majority of the people here are landless farm labourers or rear cattle. The free ration makes the difference between surviving or not for us,” he said. 

Read more: DTE Impact: 70-year-old supporting mentally-ill daughter, disabled son-in-law to get her dream cowshed

Many others from his village who are deprived of the PDS scheme have started selling their cattle. “Our herd size has shrunk from 200 to 150 to 50 in some cases,” he added.

Villagers across Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bhilwara and Tonk said the job opportunities under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) were also low. They were being forced to borrow money from private money lenders for survival.

Rajasthan’s border and remote areas have no industries or other employment opportunities to earn a living. The MGNREGA is the only alternate lifeline for the poor.

“I received rations just once during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mubina from Tonk, about 110 km from the state capital Jaipur. “I have been applying for the benefits for the past six years to no avail.”

Mubina’s debts lie heavy on her shoulders — all Rs 2 lakh of it — most of which went towards educating her children and undergoing health treatments. 

More than two third of the residents in the Kalandar Basti (settlement) of 170 people are said to have piled debts of at least Rs 1 lakh. 

“The money is borrowed from private money lenders as no bank lends to us. These private entities charge heavy interest rates,” said Asruddin, who has not been able to link his ration card with the online system to receive the food grains.

Asruddin received his food grains in May 2020 last. He stopped receiving it after he renewed his ration card

Read more: Dying for ration: Tonk woman bringing up family on Rs 200 a day not eligible for PDS welfare

These destitute villagers have been running from pillar to post to get their dues. Twenty-six-year-old Nahid said he has appealed to higher authorities and went to local officials and the court. 

“There are others in the basti with the same issue, but our grievances are not addressed,” he said. “We only receive the same reply every time — ‘the process will begin next month’.”

If the debts continue to pile, there is no way Lakshmi’s family will be able to step out of poverty. “My children were born poor and they will end up living the same miserable life as me,” she added.

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