COVID-19 is not just a natural disaster, but also a man-made disaster due to the non intervention of the government, citizens have alleged.

How the Karnataka government is handling food distribution during the lockdown
Delve Governance & Policy Tuesday, April 21, 2020 - 17:40

With the nationwide lockdown to combat coronavirus entering its fourth week, many in Bengaluru continue to be left hungry, despite the Karnataka government’s promises to feed the poor. Stranded across the city, many have neither been provided with cooked food nor pulses and food products.

While rations from the government’s public distribution system (PDS) is usually only for those who hold ration cards, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had promised that people who didn’t have ration cards were also welcome to avail free food grains through PDS shops.

However, on the ground, this is not the case. Officials admit that the promise has not been implemented since the details have not been worked out. With no written orders issued to provide food grains to those without ration cards, many have questioned the Chief Minister’s hasty assurances to the press on feeding the hungry.

Speaking to TNM, N Krishnamurthy, chairperson of the State Commission for Food and Civil Supplies, Karnataka said, “APL (above poverty line) and BPL (below poverty line) card holders are being given their rations, but not those without ration cards. The scheme for non-card holders is not yet final, there is no ground-level implementation. The Revenue Department must discuss it, and they are still thinking about how to go about it.”

The top official cites problems with documentation and tracking as one of the challenges with distributing ration to non-card holders. “Suppose they take ration from one place and then go to another ration shop and again take rations? It would cause a huge loss to the government.” he said.

Speaking to TNM, social activist Brinda Adige, said, “The government does not have any stated way in which they plan to give any ration to non-card holders. Such people might be inter-state migrants who don't have a ration card as they keep moving from place to place, working in construction or in low-paying jobs. We suggested that they use the system of stamping hands with indelible ink, which is being used for people who arrive at the airport. This way, they can ensure that only those who need rations are benefiting from the scheme.”

Card holders not getting rations either

While the government made promises about feeding the hungry in the state, many of those who already possess ration cards also said that they are yet to get the food grains.

Mahima, a pourakarmika (sanitary worker) from Chamrajpet, Bengaluru, said that she has not got any rations for the month.

“They are using a token system by which they give tokens in the morning. Based on that, we are supposed to go and collect rations. We have been trying to get the token for two weeks now. Last week, they asked us to come on Sunday. When we went on Sunday, we didn't get the token. They asked us to come again on Wednesday. Now, my husband has gone to stand in the queue for the token.”

Asked how her family was managing daily meals, Mahima said, “Some people in the area association where I work gave me about 5 kg of rice and I have been managing with that so far. I have been paid for the month, so with that I bought vegetables when they open in the morning.”

Mary, a pourakarmika from Koramangala, said that she got only rice and no other pulses. “This month we got about 30 kg of rice but no wheat. We did not get any dal or oil either,” she said.

Mary has been relying on the cooked food distributed by an NGO’s volunteers in the area.

A source Food and Civil Supplies department said there has been a problem with procurements. “We will begin wheat distribution by the end of the month. We are giving them two months of ration, and that is already underway,” he said.

Regarding the supply for pulses such as dal, the sourcesaid, “Earlier, people could get pulses for half the price, paying Rs 38 for a kilo of dal. But when the new government came into power, they stopped the supply. We have heard an announcement that in the following months they will resume the scheme, but we are yet to see it.”

They added that the situation would improve. “Things should get better from next month. The state government has said that they will begin using central government funds from the ‘Anna Bhagya’ scheme to provide free food grains for all beneficiaries.”

Corruption in ration shops

Recently, the Department conducted a raid at a PDS shop in Shivajinagar and found that the store was dispensing less rations than they should.

“The shop owners were giving two kg of rice less, per person. For example, last month, each person was eligible to get seven kilos of rice. In a family of four, they were eligible for 28 kg of rice, but the beneficiaries were given only 20 kg of rice. There is a denial of 8 kilos of rice to that family. I have recommended departmental action against the shops that have misused the food grains.” Krishnamurthy, from the Food and Civil Supplies Commission said.

Ration card holders spoken to in connection with the story confirmed that they were only getting 5 kilos of rice per person.

What about those who live locally without ration cards?

People who do not possess ration cards for various reasons have also been affected by the government’s lack of implementation.

Rachna, a tailor from Kothanur, said she doesn’t have a ration card because she just moved into her locality. “I tried getting a ration card last month, but they kept saying come next week. Now, everything is closed and I will have to wait until the lockdown ends,” she laments. She is unsure about managing food. “For this month, we are adjusting with the rations I bought earlier. But if the lockdown is extended, I don’t know how I will find money to buy rations next month,” she said.

Babu, an auto driver who lives in Pottery Town, said that he doesn’t possess a ration card since he is frequently moving homes.

“I don’t have a ration card because I don’t have my own house and keep shifting the rental house. The government should have planned better for poor people when they announced the lockdown. Most people don’t have money because there is no way they can work. Even if we have money, what should we do if the shops don’t have food? Where should we go?” he asked.

The response of private organisations in providing food

Due to the void in the availability of food for the most vulnerable in society, local citizens’ groups and NGOs have taken it upon themselves to provide for the poor.

However, the large number of people in need of urgent help for their basic survival amounts to thousands. This has overwhelmed many of the private individuals and organisations trying to help them. This is why they urge the government to take concrete steps to give support to people in need of basic food.

Naavu Bharatiyaru, one of the groups coordinating relief in the form of both rations and cooked food, said that they have received requests from more than 6,000 migrant workers. “We were able to address some requests, but we are overwhelmed and cannot serve all these requests,” said Shaheen, a coordinator from the group.

Many NGOs also report having run out of funds. Shaheen added that the requests keep coming in. “Our volumes have increased as more people get to know that we are helping people, and others too are contacting us with more requests for help.”

Vinay Sreenivasan, one of the activists coordinating the efforts said, “The government needs to take a serious intervention in this matter. (COVID-19) is not just a natural disaster, but also a man-made disaster due to the non intervention of the government.”

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