At least 7.4 million people in Rajasthan, mostly from the economically weaker section, are unable to draw their rations despite having a ration card. For more than one-and-a-half-years now, the portal of the state government for updating NFSA beneficiaries is not functional. People are running from pillar to post to update their ration cards on the portal but in vain.
According to the state government, 7.4 million eligible people in the state have been unable to register their name in the NFSA portal.
Aslam Khan’s wife has lost count of the number of times she has made trips to the collectorate in Jaipur to get the family’s ration card registered on the National Food Security Portal. She has paid money the family could ill afford to agents in the hope the work would be done. But nothing has happened so far.
Unable to link the ration card with the portal, Aslam’s family is unable to access its monthly ration from the government ration shop. While his wife runs from pillar to post, Aslam, a welder, watches helplessly as he lies in bed at his house in Jaipur after he broke both his legs in an accident at work. He was the sole earning member for his family of 11. Now, his 75-year-old father works at a shop and his younger brother is working as a labourer in order to put food on the table.
Prabhati Devi, another resident of Jaipur, is faring no better. Ever since she lost her husband and her son about seven years ago, the 50-year-old has been working as a domestic help in several homes in order to support herself and her two daughters.
For almost two years now, Prabhati Devi too has been struggling to get her name registered in the National Food Security Act (NFSA) portal.
“Last year, I paid eight hundred rupees to a dalal and another four hundred rupees to someone from e-mitra, but my name is yet to be registered. I am helpless and do not know what else I need to do to get government help,” she told Gaon Connection. The 50-year-old is also unable to access her legal entitlement of the monthly ration.
It’s been close to two years and there are 7.4 million people like Aslam and Prabhati Devi in Rajasthan who are unable to draw their rations despite having a ration card. According to the state government, 7.4 million eligible people in the state have been unable to register their name in the NFSA portal.
Since May 18, 2020, the NFSA Portal has shut down in Rajasthan. Because of this, no new applications for ration cards are being registered, and neither has it been possible to update existing ration cards. For all those who lost their livelihoods in the pandemic, this has been a big blow as many of them depended on the rations to keep hunger at bay.
Anil Agarwal, additional commissioner, food department, told Gaon Connection that the quota of those eligible for ration cards was fixed by the central government as per the 2011 census. “But in the past ten years, the population has grown. We have requested the central government to keep the quota intact, but increase the number of people who are eligible,” he said.
“But we will open up the portal soon and start registering the names,” he added.
In March 2020, the sub-divisional magistrate’s court in Kota released a list of eligible candidates to be uploaded into the NFSA portal. But nearly two years on, it has not happened, and those people have not got rations.
A little more than a 100 kms from where Aslam and Prabhati Devi live in Jaipur is the town of Sikar where Raju lives with his 85-year-old mother, Kalavati Devi.
“I have been running from pillar to post for two years trying to get a ration card, and each time I apply, my application is rejected on some pretext or another,” a frustrated Raju, told Gaon Connection. “When I visited e-mitra, I was asked to make a labour card which I did after paying fifteen hundred rupees. But it did not get me the ration card,” the daily wage labourer complained. “I have to earn my living every day. If I have to make the rounds of this office and that, how do I feed my family,” he asked.
“I was informed over the phone that my name was approved for the portal, and that it would take a few days to be uploaded,” Yasmeen from Kota told Gaon Connection. “But the lockdown happened and my name never made it. We had to borrow money from people in order to run the house during the lockdown. We are still repaying loans,” she said.
Usha Devi who also lives in Kota faced the same problem to activate her ration card. “I received rations just once after the lockdown and not thereafter. When I asked the authorities they said when ration distribution would resume, I would receive my rations too,” she told Gaon Connection.
Till May 2020, there were 387,000 pending applications in Rajasthan, seeking registration into the NFSA portal. After that, no more new applications were entertained or accepted.
With the COVID 19 pandemic, the lack of government rations was felt even more keenly with so many people losing their means of livelihood.
When work dried up during the lockdown, Bhagwan, a labourer, tried hard to make a government ration card for himself and his mother. “I had to spend the entire lockdown cooking food with rations others gave me,” he said.
In some cases, even those who held ration cards or who had their names in the portal were refused rations. Fifty-eight -year-old Saroj from Jaipur, found her name removed from the portal. And, like others before her, despite making innumerable trips to e-mitra, the collector and the post office in an effort to have her name re-registered in the portal, nothing came of it, because the portal had shut down.
Abhishek Ladna, who runs an e-mitra centre in Jaipur told Gaon Connection that at least four to five people came to him everyday to have their names registered in the food security portal.
“There are more than 85,000 e-mitras in Rajasthan, so you can imagine how many people are trying to do the same across the state. Most of them are from the economically weaker sections of society,” Ladna said. “If the portal opened up, it would help them, and help us earn some money too,” he added.
“The non-working portal has affected women the most. Most of them have no other source of income with which they can feed their families,” Chandrakala Sharma, a social worker from Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan, a non-profit, told Gaon Connection. “Many of them are falling prey to middlemen and conmen,” she added.
According to the fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS: 2019-21), in Rajasthan, 71.5 per cent of children in the age group of 6 months to 5 years are anaemic. In the NFHS-4 survey conducted in 2015-16, this number was 60.3 per cent. The NFHS-5 survey found that 54.4 per cent of women between ages 15 to 49, were anaemic while in the NFHS-4 the number was 46.8 per cent.
According to NFHS-5, 23.2 per cent of males aged between five and 49 years of age were anaemic while the earlier survey had pegged the number at 17.2 per cent.
“Anaemia can reduce immunity and is especially worrisome in young women,” Charul Mittal, gynaecologist and obstetrician, Sawai Mansingh Hospital, Jaipur, told Gaon Connection. She pointed out the grave consequences of anaemia, especially in pregnant women, which could lead to the possibility of miscarriage.
“The new born baby could also suffer from malnutrition, if the mother had anaemia, and that could lead to deficiency in both physical and mental health,” the gynaecologist warned.
According to Chandrakala Sharma, in November last year, they had sent 12,000 postcards to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, urging him to have the portal reinstated. “About 10,000 women from Rajasthan had sent a memorandum to the prime minister. But no one is listening to us,” she said.
Meanwhile, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the state chief minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot had requested him to increase the number of beneficiaries of the NFSA going by the 2021 census and not the 2011 census. He also pointed out in his letter that because of the pandemic, many more people became eligible to come under the NFSA scheme.
“There are problems in the NFSA scheme,” Nikhil Dey, a campaigner for Right to Food and founder member of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, told Gaon Connection. “There are four lakh families in Rajasthan who get a social security pension. But they do not get rations. There are eight lakh senior citizens who also get the pension, but who do not have ration cards,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Pushpa Devi who was shunted around from one table to another trying to get her name into the NFSA portal, has almost given up trying. Clutching a torn ration card in her hand, she told Gaon Connection: “Ever since I got this card, I have not drawn even a single ration. I have tried so many times to get my name up in the portal, but have failed.”
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