A woman stands in queue outside the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
(Representational image) A woman stands in a queue outside the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
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Lucknow: Sunila, a domestic sanitary worker and mother of three living in the Dalibagh slum in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow, is aware of the Narendra Modi government’s Garib Kalyan Yojana for free grains and pulses announced amid the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. But she does not know when she will be able to take home the food items.

“I heard the Modi sarkar announced extra ration since the beginning of the lockdown itself but when we come here, after waiting for hours, we only receive the usual (grain) amount,” the 42-year-old told ThePrint Saturday outside the local public distribution system (PDS) ration shop.

According to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s welfare package announced on 26 March, each PDS beneficiary like Sunila is eligible for 5 kg rice or wheat along with 1 kg of pulses free of cost for three months. But nearly three weeks after the announcement, there is no sign of the promised free grains and pulses at the PDS ration shops in Lucknow.

“I have just received the usual 15 kg of wheat and 10 kg of rice on the pre-existing rates as there is no distribution of free grains yet,” she added. Under the current rates, wheat costs Rs 2 per kg while rice costs Rs 2.

For most of the people standing at the Dalibagh ration shop, barely 3 km from the UP state assembly building, the PDS is the only source of food left after the three-week nationwide lockdown from 24 March wiped out all employment prospects for daily wage labourers.

People outside the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
People outside the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

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‘Solely dependent on ration’

A similar scene could be seen at the Jopling Road ration shop in Lucknow as scores of people from the adjoining slum of Teesri Basti lined up to take the allocated ration, with occasional arguments over the non-availability of free grains and pulses.

Bhanumati Devi, who works as a domestic help, and her husband, who pulls a cycle-rickshaw for a living, have both lost their respective livelihoods due to the lockdown.

“All of the people I used to work for have asked me to leave until the lockdown gets over as they are doing all the cooking, cleaning and washing themselves, which means there is no salary for me. Hence I’m solely dependent on the ration,” she said.

“We are still getting ration as per the old norms but there is no income now by which we use to purchase additional ration and vegetables. So this gets exhausted quickly, as a result of which my children have to eat rice with mustard oil and salt during this lockdown,” Bhanumati added.

People in a queue at the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
People standing in a queue at the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

Arun Kumar, the manager of the Jopling Road PDS ration shop, told ThePrint, “This is a daily issue. Every day, someone or the other asks for the free grain and pulses but no allocation has been made to the state godowns yet.”

He added, “The free ration is only available for MNREGA, Antyodaya and safai karamchari (sanitary workers) beneficiaries.”

These three category of beneficiaries receive the free ration over and above the regular allocation. However, this is separate from the scheme announced on 26 March, which is applicable to all PDS beneficiaries.


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What the government says

Speaking to ThePrint, a senior official in the consumer affairs department of the central government said, “While there is ample stock of pulses with NAFED amounting over 34.25 metric tonnes, most of these are whole grams directly procured from farmers which is to be milled and processed, for which the Centre needs the assistance of private mills too. But they are suffering a huge labour shortage.”

NAFED, or the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation, has been appointed as the nodal agency to execute supply of pulses to all states and union territories.

A majority of the states are also yet to lift the additional grain for their godowns for the distribution of free grains and pulses, said the official, who did not wish to be named.

“States are still working on the requisition as they have to submit planning and transportation strategy from the godowns of FCI (Food Corporation of India) which has been heavily delayed from major states as they are still focused in implementing the lockdown,” added the official.

Ashok Thakur, the central government’s nominee on the NAFED board, said, “The framework related to lifting and transportation of pulses in various states is yet to be submitted by them due to the lockdown. We are ready with the stock on our front.”

He added, “We have commenced delivery of pulses to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Haryana, Goa, Andaman & Nicobar Islands for their quota of three months under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojna but the framework with the other states is still being worked out.”


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Fingerprint verification increasing Covid-19 risk

Most of the beneficiaries at the PDS ration shops in Lucknow are facing one more threat — the coronavirus infection itself.

Even as they apply social distancing protocols while awaiting their turns, and also use masks, the ration shops are using a thumbprint machine for each and every beneficiary to ascertain their allocation.

The usage of fingerprint verification at the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
Fingerprint verification at the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

At the Dalibagh ration shop, everyone was being told to use the machine but there was no provision of a hand sanitiser there.

“We live in slums, but even then no sanitary precautions have been provided to us by the government. Here also, the fingerprint verification is mandatory and there is no soap or sanitiser provided to wash our hands after the verification,” Suman, one of the PDS beneficiaries, told ThePrint outside the store.

Asked about this, Dalibagh ration shop manager Dinesh Singh expressed helplessness.

“There used to be large cases of impersonation of the beneficiaries in the PDS ration shops, which would lead to fights every other day,” said Singh. “Things have improved after thumbprint verification. Some of the beneficiaries whose thumbs or fingers have a cut or wound remain out (of the process, but this is very helpful in identifying the right person so we can’t do away with it.”

Singh added the government hasn’t provided an advisory on how to deal with an alternative to the fingerprint verification method.


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