13 March 2016

'Implement Maternity Benefit In Rationing System'

105 representatives from all districts of West Bengal belonging to 35 people’s organisations, NGOs and unions of the Right to Food and Work Campaign West Bengal met on 22nd and 23rd February 2016 at Barasat to discuss the issue of food security and the steps taken by the State Government recently to implement and supplement the National Food Security Act. The following is the statement that they have all agreed to release from this meeting.

Responding to the escalating violence and tensions around the issue of the new digital ration cards, the Chief Minister and the Food Minister have stated that everyone will be given rations. While welcoming such a statement, we would like them to now back it up with sufficient funds, food grains and administrative action to ensure that everyone does get cheap rice and wheat.
In a country where reports of hunger and malnutrition are an everyday occurrence, the universal right to food is the only way forward. From our discussions over two days, it is clear that the poorest have either got no rations or have been made part of the RKSY II which provides only 2 kg of food grains per head at the hugest cost, while many rich people have been declared Antodaya or the poorest of poor and are getting the largest amount of rations. Nepotism and faithfulness to the ruling party have put many non-deserving people on the lists while many beggars, homeless people, Adivasis and other deserving categories have been left out. In addition, things have been complicated with 5 categories of cards each of which has different entitlements.

In addition, we have also found that the National Food Security Act (NFSA) remains only partially implemented. Most importantly, the maternity benefit entitlement of Rs.6000 for all pregnant women that has been given under Section 4(b) of the Act has not been implemented at all so far. To stop leakages, the Act has provisions for vigilance committees, social audit, District Grievance Redressal Officers and efficient systems of complaints through help lines, web sites etcetera. None of these are properly in place in the State as yet.    Moreover, in order to actually have food security, this meeting feels that there is the need to go far beyond the NFSA. Therefore we demand
·         Immediate implementation of “Food for All” with only one category of at least 7 kgs of food grains per head at Rs. 2 for the entire population of the State ( by our calculations this involves only an additional amount of Rs. 2896 crores or  2.6% of the total funds available with the State Government)
·         Exclusion of the very rich as per exclusion criteria that are already there in SECC or as per the their voluntary declaration for exclusion
·         Immediate implementation of the maternity benefit entitlements given in NFSA
·         Immediate and effective implementation of all grievance redressal and transparency mechanisms provided for in the Act
·         Ensuring that tea garden management continues to provide rations to the tea garden workers, which is their accepted right as workers, and does not replace these with the Government’s rations under NFSA, which is the right of the tea garden population as citizens of the country
·         Ration shops must be handed over to SHGs and cooperatives , with the stoppage of corrupt ration dealers
·         Gradual expansions of the rationing system to provide other nutritional essentials like pulses and oil at subsidised rates, along with increasing the food grains allocation to the full nutritional requirement of 14 kgs per head.
·         Emphasis on local procurement and local storage of food grains, with such facilities in every GP
·         Emphasis on revival and support for safe and organic agriculture , so that agriculture and development is for food first
The meeting also declares the following as its future programme:-
·         On March 8th, International Women’s Day, a programme with local meetings and signature campaign centred on immediate implementation of maternity benefits in NFSA.
·         Lobbying by village Right to Food groups and at all other levels in the State to get all parties to include our demands in their manifestos.
·         A people’s convention of Right to Food village groups in July to put forward our demands on the Right to Food to the new Government, preceded by trainings, conventions and meetings in all districts.

Anuradha Talwar              Debojyoti Chakraborty                        Father Jyoti S J

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