13 March 2016

Response to W.Bengal Chief Minister On Digital Ration Cards

Responding to the escalating violence and tensions around the issue of the new digital ration cards, the Chief Minister, Smt Mamata Banerjee has stated that everyone will be given rations. While welcoming such a statement, we would like her 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. Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity has always opposed targeting. As a system of choosing beneficiaries for food and other schemes, it has led to huge inclusion and exclusion errors, with the deserving being left out and the affluent and politically powerful cornering all benefits. The lists that have been prepared for distribution of digital ration cards suffer from many such problems, especially as no public participation, in terms of consultation with Gram Sansads and Ward Sabhas was done while preparing these lists. They are therefore full of errors. 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 more complicated with 5 categories of cards each of which has different entitlements.

We call on the State Government to allow for only one category under which all people who want rations will get rice and wheat at Rs.2 per kg. As the per head requirement for food grains as per ICMR norms is 14 kg per adult per month, this has been our demand throughout. If it is not able to provide this quantity immediately, we demand that the State Government should ensure half this quantity of 7 kg per head (the Antodaya Anna Yojana quantity) for all citizens as a start.

The State Government was already spending Rs.1,930 crores on cheap food before the implementation of National Food Security Act. It has now plans to spend another Rs.2300 crores to provide everyone under the NFSA with Rs.2 rice and for the two state schemes. By our calculations, extending a uniform system of 7 kg of food grains to the 3 crores uncovered by NFSA would require another Rs.2896 crores. The 2015-16 State budget projects revenue of Rs.46,500 crores, while the Centre has provided the State Government with another Rs.63,578 crores under the 14th Finance Commission funds. Food for All thus requires only an extra 2.6 % of this total amount.

Getting food to everyone also requires administrative back up in terms of tagging people to ration shops, giving everyone ration cards, arranging for storage etc. We demand that all such steps be taken to make the TMC slogan of “Food For All” (a slogan that is also endorsed by all Left parties ) a reality.

Uttam Gayen, General Secretary
Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity

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