DMPQ-“Hunger and malnutrition multiplied by covid-19 pandemic and lockdown demand the changes in India’s PDS system.” Discuss.

. The effects of the lockdown and the resultant economic crisis continue to disproportionately impact the poor and informal sector workers. Since the lockdown, the Government of India (GoI) has announced relief packages under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) and Atmanirbhar Bharat. However, numerous studies have shown their inadequacy.

What is more worrying is that even the few measures such as free grains to those having ration cards as per the National Food Security Act (NFSA) are coming to an end this month. While there have been reports hinting at continuing the provision of free grains, it is yet to be announced. In this context, the Right to Food campaign in partnership with several civil society organisations initiated “Hunger Watch”, a rapid survey across 11 states (~3,500 households) from mid-September to mid-October. The objective was to assess the situation of hunger among vulnerable groups, as well as to take immediate local action to support those in extreme need. To this end, we focussed on the conditions among marginalised communities such as Dalit/Adivasi households, daily-wage workers, households with single women, aged or disabled and so on. The survey was conducted through physical visits to the households by local researcher activists and 41 per cent of our sample reported having a monthly income of less than Rs 3,000 pre-lockdown compared to only 2.4 per cent more than Rs 15,000. One-third of them were daily wage workers.

The contribution of a well-functioning Public Distribution System (PDS) along with cash-support measures through social security pensions cannot be overstated in this context. Among the Hunger Watch respondents, 70 per cent had some kind of a ration card. Of those who had a ration card, 93 per cent said that they received free rations at least once (two-thirds said they received free rations every month). While on the one hand, it is heartening to see that at such a time when all else seemed to fail, the PDS seems to have come to the rescue for many, it is also daunting to imagine what the situation would be if even this support is missing. The PDS gives only 5 kg of foodgrain per head each month at subsidised prices and as part of Covid-relief, an additional 5 kg for free and 1 kg pulses for the entire household. The demand for ration cards amongst those who didn’t have one was also high.

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