As part of its national campaign, the Right to Food and Work Network, West Bengal, (RTFWN), today marked what it called the ‘national day of action’ to highlight the need for immediate extension of free ration under the Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) and for universalization of the Public Distribution System (PDS).
According to the RTFWN, even with its limited contacts and outreach during the pandemic, it has already come across three incidents of starvation in Purulia district.
“With the Central Government’s free ration scheme coming to an end in November, the authorities should immediately take cognizance of the matter and announce measures to ensure that people have access to food,” the RTFWN said in a statement today.
“Without an extension of the PMGKAY, a significant section of the population would desperately try to combat hunger on a daily basis with extremely scare resources. Data collection underway for a research ‘Hunger Watch’ is already presenting the crisis condition that almost every respondent in the survey reports to being in, with the free rations being their only lifeline,” said one of the coordinators of the RTFWN campaign, Pawan Baxla.
“With state elections round the corner, there is also a fear that people’s real issues will be sacrificed at the altar of communal politics and the violence it perpetuates,” he added.
According to the network, the recent categorization of India as ‘serious’ with a rank of 94 among 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index communicates the need to bolster the PDS.
“Fluctuating vegetable prices, rising prices of milk and milk products and the unaffordability of fruits and meat have shrunken the food basket of vulnerable households with serious consequences for their well-being. The PDS at least makes an endeavor to provide food grains at subsidized prices, though the quantity provided is far from being adequate for an individual. Despite our godowns overflowing with food grain stocks of 1511 lakh metric tonnes, the BJP government is not ready to provide free ration to the needy,” Mr Baxla alleged.
The RTFWN, West Bengal, today publicly protested the discontinuation of extra free food grain ration and pulses under the PMGKAY from December onwards. Mass mobilisation and meetings and peaceful demonstrations by local people, were held in different pockets of the state.
It further said it will serve 100 letters to BDOs, DMs, Panchayat Samitis, DCFSs, Panchayat Pradhans, and ration shops in 15 districts of the state, demanding extension of free grain distribution to both NFSA and non- NFSA beneficiaries.
A memorandum will also be served to the chief minister, urging her to take up this matter with the Centre and to simultaneously revive free ration distribution to state card holders.
The network has also scheduled a webinar on ‘Threat to Food Security and Democracy’ tomorrow, where eminent panelists are set to address issues of food insecurity, and the “anti-worker and antifarmer” laws, and repealing of the “anti-democratic” UAPA and immoral persecution of rights’ activists.