Wednesday , 12 August 2020
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The Underfed Poor

States must provide food to the suffering population

The latest data released by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution has shown that only 13 percent of free food grains allocated for migrant workers under the Atmanirbhar Bharat package has actually reached them during May and June. Only a little over 2.13 crore people have benefitted so far from the central scheme (1.21 crore in May) and (92.44 lakh in June). The food items were made available under special allocation in May after the media highlighted the joblessness and hunger of the migrants returning home from urban centres in the wake of lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The government had initially planned to supply five kilogrammes of food for two months to an estimated eight crore of migrants who did not have ration cards and who were forced to return home due to lack of employment and essential items in urban areas where they were employed. It is disturbing to note that the authorities failed to provide most of the hungry migrants the basic food.

Though all the 36 states and Union territories lifted around 80 percent (6.38 lakh tonnes) of eight lakh tonnes of food grains made available by the Centre under the free food scheme, the distribution has been dismal, except in a few states. Only 1.07 lakh tonnes (corresponding to around 13 percent of total allocation of food grains) has reached the beneficiaries as on June 30. The ministry’s data also reveals that at least 26 states and UTs lifted 100 percent of their allocation of food grains from the Centre but not one of them distributed full quantities. Rajasthan has done exceedingly well to distribute over 95 percent (42,478 tonnes of total allocation of 44,662 tonnes) of food grains to about 42.47 lakh of its people in May and June each. Few other states such as Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and Karnataka have also managed well in the distribution of food grains.

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two of the largest states of the country that account for the highest number of migrant workers and got the largest share of the central government allocation, have utterly failed in swiftly and adequately distributing it to the poor people. While Uttar Pradesh managed to distribute just 3,324 tonnes (2.03 percent) of 1,40,637 tonnes it lifted from allocated quota of 1,42,033 tonnes to about 4.39 lakh beneficiaries in May, and to 2.25 lakh people in June, the distribution of free food in Bihar was even worse with just 1,842 tonnes (2.13%) distributed to about 3.68 lakh beneficiaries in May, and none in June. Incidentally, Bihar had lifted its full quota of 86,450 tonnes. Now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced extension of the special package till November end, it remains to be seen whether the states would use it for the benefit of the poor to mitigate their hardship or allow the food grains to rot and people to die of hunger.

What is surprising to note is that Goa is among 11 states and one UT that have not distributed even one per cent of the quantity they had lifted to the poor people during June. It is not that all of the migrant workers have left the state. Why were food grains not distributed to the migrants who have stayed on in Goa? Have the authorities collected the data on how many migrants have stayed back while thousands left and whether they have enough food for themselves? Goa has informed the Centre that it could not implement the scheme since migrant workers had moved out of the state. Why did the state lift the quota if it knew that it had no migrants or other poor people to distribute it to? Now that the scope of the package has been extended to benefit 80 crore people, including the poorer sections of society, Goa and other states should lift their allocated quotas and distribute it to every poor household. The poor of the country are facing very difficult times in view of the economic downturn owing to the pandemic. They need food to survive and build their immunity.

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