PMO weighs food for all, may do away with need for ration card, IDs

Economy


New Delhi: With the likelihood of the lockdown being extended beyond April 14 high, a key concern has been flagged to the Centre: of ensuring food supply to migrant labourers, daily wagers and urban poor who may not have the required ration card with them.

A recommendation has come from the empowered groups and senior officials of the government to enlarge access to food by doing away with the requirement of ration card or any kind of ID, and distributing it anyone who needs it during the time of the lockdown and until normalcy resumes, ET has gathered.

The Prime Minister’s Office is learnt to be examining the recommendation, which requires a policy shift.

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The recommendation has come in view of the assessment that many in the unorganised sector are still not within the public distribution system network and still others may have left their ration card back home for their families to use.

It has been suggested that the Centre ask all states to distribute free food and grains to people even without an ID card/ration card.

“This should most definitely be done and at the earliest — keeping in view the unprecedented situation we are in. It has been advised that dry food ration should be simply distributed to whoever needs it without insisting on a ration card. The reason being, several people in need just now are migrant labourers and daily wagers who usually leave their ration cards behind with their families back home for their needs. They rely here on daily earnings to survive and are now quite helpless,” a senior official in the know of the proposal told ET.

“Doing away with the ID requirement will ensure no one goes without food. Considering that we have enough food stock in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India, this should not be a problem, it has been suggested,” the official added.

It is felt that the Centre’s nudge can push states to do away with the paperwork requirements, at least temporarily.

The Centre had announced a Rs 1.70 lakh crore relief package for the poor while the country fights the coronavirus outbreak.

A major component of this is free food distribution: about 80 crore individuals are to be provided double of their current entitlement (5 kg wheat/rice) besides 1 kg pulses per family – for three months.

However, access to this free food requires showing the relevant ration card at the fair-price shops or public distribution centre stores.

While the Delhi government has done away with the ration card requirement, other states are yet to follow.

Some states have announced transfer of funds directly into accounts of ration card holders.

A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute on how India’s food safety net is responding to Covid-19 also pointed to this issue. The study observes that PDS coverage in urban areas is low at about 50% leaving out many urban poor, and suggests the need to “expand the list of eligible households” at least for now.



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