Gumla, Jharkhand: For a public hearing on the National Food Security Act in Jharkhand’s Gumla district, conducted by activists in the presence of government officials, 75-year-old Jasmati Lohrain walked over four kilometres in the searing heat. The hearing, attended by over 500 villagers in Gumla’s Bharno block, was her only chance to get government officials to hear about her problems.
Ms Lohrain is a widow; her four sons died in a car accident a few years ago. Jharkhand implemented the food security act in 2015, which is supposed to provide 35 kg of foodgrain to over 80 per cent of Jharkhand’s rural poor. Ms Lohrain is a beneficiary, but says that for the last six months she has received zero foodgrain, despite having a valid ration card and multiple visits to ration shops.
“I work in other’s homes, sometimes people look at my age, take pity and give me food,” she says, before breaking into tears.
A survey led by economist Jean Dreze and others in six states – including Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar – that culminated in a public hearing in the presence of government officials in Gumla, has found that Jharkhand’s has one of the worst records in implementing food security. At least 24 per cent households across the state still don’t have a ration card, and those who do, rarely get grain on time, or in full quantity.
“Action is not being taken against those who are responsible for irregularities. For example in this public hearing itself, the BDO herself says that the marketing officer responsible for PDS never comes to office and even then there is no clear promise of action,” says Mr Dreze.
These words though, are hardly any consolation for people like 65-year-old Gayatri Devi, who was told six months earlier her older ration card would be replaced, but five applications later nothing has moved. Even her grain supply was stopped.
Shweta Ved, the government official in charge in the area, says, “We have tried very hard to change the system and we will now act against the corrupt. We have also written to the government to start proceedings against errant officials.”