Dying for ration: No health aid for those without PDS cards

Ground report from Jharkhand villages shows many pending applications; Rejected applicants told quota for beneficiaries full

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Monday 02 January 2023
Sudhir Yadav (second from right) of Satvahini village and his brothers have been trying fruitlessly to get separate ration cards for their families. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE
Sudhir Yadav (second from right) of Satvahini village and his brothers have been trying fruitlessly to get separate ration cards for their families. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE Sudhir Yadav (second from right) of Satvahini village and his brothers have been trying fruitlessly to get separate ration cards for their families. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

A scheme to distribute free ration to 813.5 million beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) is supposed to have come into effect from the New Year. Down To Earth looked at the ground situation of beneficiaries in Jharkhand.

The Public Distribution System (PDS) started in the 1960s to provide food grains at subsidised rates to the people of the country facing a food crisis. PDS was transformed into the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2013.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, free ration was given out to the needy under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY).

PMGKAY has been discontinued and the benefits have been integrated into NFSA from January 2023. But the ground situation in parts of Jharkhand tells a different story about the condition of the recipients. Health treatments under the Ayushman Card are also not available to those without ration cards.

Village Satbahini falls on the way to Chatra district from Palamu district. This village comes under Sidki Gram Panchayat. DTE visited the village early in December and met Umesh Kumar, who was home for Diwali to meet his children. He owns a vegetable stall in Sirsa, Haryana where he lives alone.

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

“I will go back to Sirsa after a few days. There is very little work here to feed my children,” he said. “If I don’t go out for work, the kids will starve. There is not enough land for cultivation to feed the whole family.”

Another villager Ajay said his father has a ration card with his name. He has been, however, unsuccessful in getting a separate card for his wife and children. “If we had a ration card, I would not worry what the kids would starve. A part of my savings has to be sent to the village every month,” he said.

Brothers Sudhir Kumar, Santosh Kumar and Mithilesh Kumar face the same issue as Ajay. Their other two brothers were able to get separate ration cards after they got married, but Sudhir, Santosh and Mithilesh failed despite running pillar to post.

“Our father Babbu Yadav’s ration card had the names of all five brothers, but we have been trying to get separate cards for our families since we got married. Our applications get rejected,” the brothers said.

Sudhir has a wife and three children, Santosh has a wife and two kids, while Mithilesh got married recently. “We were told the quota is full,” Sudhir told DTE. “My brothers and I do not have the green ration card either.”

Dozens of people come to the Common Service Centre in Pratap Pur, said Akhilesh Kumar, who runs the centre. “Some applicants had their old ration cards cancelled and many are fresh applicants. But officials say that ration cards cannot be made due to non-availability of quota,” he said.

Only a few have the green ration card issued by the Jharkhand government, he added.

Read more: Dying for ration: 70-year-old sustains family as mentally ill daughter, disabled son-in-law denied BPL benefits

Quota calculation

When the NFSA came into force in 2013, it was decided that 75 per cent of the country’s rural and 50 per cent of urban population would be entitled to subsidised food grains. Coverage of about two-thirds of the population, or 67 per cent, was guaranteed under the Act.

The total population, according to the 2011 census, was 1.21 billion. Thus the quota was set to cover 813 million people.

However, the central government had fixed a separate state-wide quota. For Jharkhand, over 26 million or 99.95 per cent of cards have been made. But the population has increased since 2011, whereas the quota has yet to be adjusted accordingly.

It is estimated that around 2 million people in Jharkhand are outside the purview of NFSA.

The Jharkhand government had decided to give green ration cards at the state level to those outside of NFSA’s purview, said Siraj Dutta with the Right to Food movement. “Green ration cards have also been given to a large number of people, but for the last three-four months, these cardholders have not received PDS benefits,” said Dutta.

Read more: Only allocated rice in rations, people sell it to buy expensive wheat

The issue was also raised in the Assembly recently, according to local media reports. The state government had responded the supply of ration was interrupted due to a dispute with the Food Corporation of India and was expected to be resolved soon.

Health benefits impacted

People without ration cards cannot avail of Centre’s Ayushman health card benefits either.

Shubham Kumar Das, the six-year-old son of Ashok Kumar Das, lives in ward number one of Bokaro Steel City of Bokaro district. The child has cancer but cannot get the benefit of an Ayushman card due to a lack of a ration card.

A complaint of non-issuance of the ration card reached the Jharkhand State Food Commission. The then-Member Secretary of the Commission, Sanjay Kumar, wrote a letter to the Secretary for Food Public Distribution and Consumer Affairs, recommending the issuance of a new ration card to the child’s family,

“I have come across many such cases of people who do not have ration cards, so they are not getting treatment,” said Palamu’s youth activist Satish Kumar Sharma.

Read more: Dying for ration: Tribal beneficiaries of Jharkhand PDS don’t have salt, surviving on plain boiled rice

Prince, the son of Sangeeta Devi of Bairao village of Hussainabad block, is one such case. The child needs to undergo surgery but cannot get treatment as his name is not on any ration card.

The family has an Ayushman card, but the child’s name should be on a ration card as an ID to avail of health benefits, said Sharma. “The family is landless and doesn’t have any other identity card. Prince’s operation is not happening due to this. Their application has been pending for two years now,” he said.

Surendhar Soni, a resident of Bokaro Thermal in the Baimo block of Bokaro district, is an oral cancer patient. But Soni is also bereft of an Ayushman card as he lacks a ration card, like many patients struggling for their rightful aid.

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