During the nationwide lockdown imposed by the government to contain the spread of COVID-19 infections, several families with meagre or no income were dependent on state assistance for food, especially in rural India. While some did receive help under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGAY), many, who did not own ration cards, had to fend for themselves. Being out of this food safety net meant that these families were deprived of the additional 6 kg of grains and pulses (per person per month) distributed under the central relief scheme during the lockdown.
Usha Devi’s family of seven from Bihar were among those who were unable to access free food for not owning a ration card despite applying for it several times. Usha’s family owns 2-5 acres of agricultural land and have taken another acre on lease to cultivate crops. In addition to farming, Usha makes beedis (cheap cigarettes made of unprocessed tobacco wrapped in leaves) while her husband works as a daily-wage labourer to sustain the family.
A ration card is an official document issued by state governments to households that are eligible to purchase subsidised food grain from the Public Distribution System (PDS) under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). It also serves as an identity card for many from underprivileged sections of society.
The non-ownership of a ration card has not only deprived the family of free or subsidised food but also other essential services and rights. While speaking with Gram Vaani volunteer Ranjan, Usha narrated how in the absence of a ration card, her family is unable to apply for Aadhaar—a 12-digit unique identity number—and get the children admitted to a school.
As per the findings of a national survey conducted by Gaon Connection on the impact of COVID-19 on rural India, the majority of the economically poor households with no ration cards faced ‘very high’ or ‘high’ difficulty in accessing food during the lockdown.
Gram Vaani is a social tech company that empowers communities by enabling them to create and share stories in their own voice. Ranjan is a volunteer with Gram Vaani.
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