The nationwide lockdown has impacted 1.3 billion people in India that was imposed on March 24, 2020, to contain the spread of COVID 19. However, people like daily wage earners, homeless and beggars have been affected badly. Many are already running out of money to put food on the tables. To tackle this situation, the centre and state government have announced some food grains for free apart from monthly food grains on subsidized rate. However, on the ground, ration cardholders are not even receiving food grains allocated to them from ration shops.
Nisar Shaikh, a resident of Govandi’s Baiganwadi, who would visit his area ration shop every month and receive 20kg of food grains including rice and wheat. He thought that 20kg is his rights from the government. However, this month he came to know that he is eligible to receive 40kg of food grains every month including rice, wheat and pulses. He was very happy to know that because he was scared of running out of food due to no source of money because of the lockdown in the wake of the Coronavirus.
Nisar is not the only one in Mumbai who has been deceived by ration shop owners. Alam Abdul Shaikh from Baiganwadi who works as a maid and earns Rs. 8000 a month. Her husband is suffering from paralysis. She is the only one to support her family financially. Because of lockdown, she is running out of money. She said that she had been receiving only 12kg of food grains including rice and wheat for years. Now she came to know that she can avail 24kg of food grains.
“Sometimes I was refused to get food grains on the pretext of no ration stock in the shop. The ration shop owner talks rudely if we force him to provide us with food grains. He would throw our ration cards abruptly. Ration shop owners don’t respect women at all,” Alam told. She has five members in her family.
Non-profit organisations called Sultanpur Ekta Manch and Hope India Foundation which are running a campaign to aware ration cardholders about their rights of rations believe that almost 100% cardholders are receiving fewer foodgrains than what they are supposed to.
Free rations unavailable
The Maharashtra government has ordered all the ration shops to provide some free rations to cardholders. It is to make sure that poor people will not sleep hungry. However, Mumbaikars are denied of the free rations citing no stock of rations at the shops. They are asked to wait for a few days.
Reshma Bi from Govandi’s Shivaji Nagar went to ration shops at the beginning of the third week of April and was sent back empty-handed. “I was told that rations are not in stock. When I asked the shop owner when I should recheck, he rudely asked me to visit again in a few days. He refused to tell the exact date for the availability of rations,” told Reshma.
Reshma has seven members in her family. When asked about the monthly income, Reshma replied that it is hand to mouth. “We don’t have any source of income now because of the lockdown. If we don’t get enough food grains then we will be in huge trouble soon,” said Reshma.
Another resident from Baiganwadi said that some ration shop owners are providing free rations to some cardholders when they are pressurized. “We don’t know much about how the rationing system works. That is why we are asked to visit here and there which turned out to be no help. People who threaten ration shop owners to complain about the corruption are given free rations,” said Shahid Ansari who according to his ration card can avail 55kg of food grains monthly. But he has been receiving only 12-15kg. “I was asked to visit after 10-12 days for free rations,” Shahid further added.
Every ration cardholder told that they don’t receive bills when they visit ration shops to buy the subsidized food grains.
Charging more than subsidized rate
Ration shop owners are not only giving fewer rations to the cardholders but charging more than what is fixed (subsidized rate) by the government. According to the government, wheat is for Rs. 2 and rice is for Rs. 3 per kilogram. However, it is revealed that shop owners charge Rs. 18-20 per kilogram.
“I have many times paid Rs. 20 for one kilogram of rice and Rs 18 for one kilogram of wheat. When I objected, the shop owners would tell me that they don’t have stock, that is why they are asked to sell rations at a higher price,” told Nisar.
Hakeem Khan from Sultanpur Ekta Manch said that it is a big scam. “First ration shop owners save food grains by giving fewer rations to cardholders and then sell them at higher rates to earn money,” said Hakeem. Hakeem Khan said that one of the ration shops is sealed in Baiganwadi because of the complaint against corruption.
The corruption came out when the NGOs started finding out, through the Maharashtra state government website, how much food grains is allocated to a family. “When we started checking various ration cards’ details on the website we found that almost 100% of the cardholders are not receiving allocated food grains,” revealed Ateeque Khan from Hope India Foundation. He is a teacher and social activist by profession.
A statewide corruption
Such complaints are coming from across Mumbai and Maharashtra as well. Hindustan Times recently reported that around 20 ration cardholders from Kalyan’s Sanglewadi area also lodged complaints against ration shops.
Ahmed Qazi, president of Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO), Kalyan, told the Hindustan Times, “many shops in Kalyan refuse people their allocated quota of food grains. Some are turning people away without giving them ration.”
Hakeem and Ateeque said that they have circulated a video explaining how people can find out their monthly quota of subsidized food grains. After the video went viral on social media, they started receiving hundreds of calls from other parts of Mumbai and Maharashtra asking for help. “What we are now observing is that it is a statewide corruption. The government should look into the matter as soon as possible,” added Hakeem.
Ration cardholders should collect bills before leaving the ration shops after buying the subsidized food grains. This will help the cardholders to know what is their ration quota and how much they are receiving from ration shops.
The rationing officials were not available to talk on the same. However, Abu Asim Azmi, MLA of Mankhurd Shivaji Nagar Constituency, refused to accept that it is a big issue. “Ration cardholders are receiving allocated food grains on the subsidized rate. If anyone is facing the issue can approach to my party members at my office,” said Abu Asim Azmi.