Half of Vibrant Gujarat goes to sleep empty stomach
Despite tall claims on paper, cases of malnutrition, anaemia, low body mass index abound in state
�It is with the core value of the Right to Food that the Gujarat government�s Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department sets its mandate,� this is the government's claim. But, according to various reports, the state�s Public Distribution System (PDS) is in a shambles.
On paper, much hyped schemes like the Anand Smart Card Project, Roaming Ration Card, Food Fortification, Grahak Bhandar Yojana, Food Helpline and others may appear to be in place. Despite this, almost half of Gujarat�s six crore population is hungry.
For its part, the state government has issued nearly 89.58 lakh Above Poverty Line (APL) cards and 35.51 lakh Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards. In the latter category, about 8.10 lakh cards fall under the Antyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY), which caters to the poorest of the poor. So, in all, nearly 1.33 crore ration cards have been issued in the state to ensure the availability of wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene to the poorer sections of society at highly subsidised rates.
This means that ideally, the system should work like this� the Food Corporation of India (FCI) issues the PDS quota to Gujarat at a subsidised rate, which in turn further subsidises it for BPL and AAY cardholders. APL citizens get no subsidy and have to pay the market price of their share of PDS. The food goes from the national warehouses to the state warehouses where it is checked, fortified and then distributed to Fair Price Shops (FPS). Ration cardholders then pick up their quota from there.
But, as the state government itself has admitted, the PDS in Gujarat have come to be known for hoarding, profiteering, poor quality, adulteration, overpricing and under weighing. The FCI allots less than the required PDS quota to Gujarat and the government doesn�t even bother about it. It keeps itself busy converting more and more BPL cards to APL, apparently to showcase its efforts at improving the hunger situation in the state, at least on paper.
Also, bogus cards are made at will and the PDS quota is diverted to the open market using these. This happens at both the levels of the Civil Supplies Department and the Fair Price Shops. With absolutely no checks on the FPS, these functions as autonomous bodies and are the major source of resource diversions. Such is the situation now that numerous public hearings, suo motto cognizance by the Gujarat High Court and various RTI applications have failed to bring about any change.
Gujarat�s Minister for Food and Civil Supplies Narattam Patel could not be contacted for comments.
Alarmingly hungry * According to International Food Policy Research Institute�s 2008 Global Hunger Index, Gujarat is ranked 69th along with Haiti, the nation infamous for food riots. The state is placed in the �alarming� category. * The M S Swaminathan Research Foundation has identified urban Gujarat as �moderately food secure� while rural Gujarat remains �severely insecure.� * The National Family Health Survey III (NFHS-III) conveys that 42.4 per cent of children in Gujarat are suffering from stunted growth due to malnutrition. Also, about 47.4 per cent of children are underweight in the state. * NFHS-III also points out that more than half of Gujarat�s population is Anaemic, with a percentage as high as 80.1 for children aged 6-35 months. * NFHS-III further states that nearly one-third of adults in Gujarat have their Body Mass Index (BMI) below the normal, 32.3 per cent for women and 28.2 per cent for men.
System in a shambles but the government is in denial SC overruled * The Supreme Court had ordered on November 28, 2001 and January 10, 2008 to provide 35 kg food grains � 19 kg wheat flour and 16 kg rice � to the poorest of the poor under the Antyodaya Scheme. But the Gujarat government in its resolution dated March 24, 2008 decided to provide 16 kg rice and 16.7 kg wheat fortified flour * The government deducts 2.3 kg from the entitlement of 19 kg and passes it on to the flour mills as the cost of fortification. So, flour mills get the benefit of 24,647 tons of wheat annually at the cost of poorest of the poor Poor distribution system Public hearings in 2008 against injustices abounding in the PDS * 900 people attend a hearing organised by the Lok Adhikar Manch (supported by Action Aid) on April 30 at Anjar, Kutch. * 1,300 people attend a hearing organised by Lok Adhikar Manch on July 2 at Khavda in Kutch * 1,150 people attend a hearing organised by Sarthi (supported by Action Aid) on November 21 at Panchmahals Common grievances recorded * Large scale diversion of PDS food grains * Irregular identification and distribution of ration cards * False and fake entries on ration cards * Fair Price Shops (FPS) open for less than two weeks in a month against the stipulated 24 days Sorry state of affairs * The National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER), New Delhi, finds in a survey that nearly 11, 53,000 ghost/fake BPL cards have been issued in Gujarat * An ORG-Marg report commissioned by the Centre reveals that in Gujarat, about 41 per cent of rice slotted for the poor is being diverted * According to the state government, the Centre allots food grains only for 21.20 lakh families as against the 35.51 lakh BPL families, a gap for nearly 14.31 lakh families. Still, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution confirms in reply to an RTI application that �No representation is received from any MP, MLA, CM or Minister regarding the supply of food grains to Gujarat since the last one year.' * An analysis report dated December 26, 2007 of the Public Health Laboratory, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, confirms live insects, high quantity of chaff in 18 samples of fortified wheat flour supplied by FPS at various districts in Rajkot, Panchmahals, Dahod, Dwarka and Jamnagar. It is deemed unfit for human consumption. * The FCI admits in a reply to an application filed under the Right to Information Act that nearly 73,814 tons of food grains have been damaged in Gujarat and Maharashtra over the past decade
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