Friday, April 16, 2010

Mumbai Poor Unite to Launch Postcard Campaign to Oppose Food Security “Bull”

Maharashtra, 14th April,

Spurred by the Food Security Bill’s current draft, which threatens to leave Mumbai’s slum populace high-and-dry in terms of their ration-card entitlements, slum-dwellers are making known their displeasure by sending tens of thousands of post-cards. The people’s verdict is writ large on the postcards: Make 35 kg of guaranteed foodgrain plus essential commodities available to the holders of Above-Poverty-Line (APL) ration cards, who form the overwhelming majority of the urban poor.

Hundreds of slum-based “mitra mandals” and self-help groups spread all over the city are busy collecting and posting these postcards addressed to Sonia Gandhi, Chairman of the National Advisory Committee, who has herself opposed the draft Bill to guarantee 25 kg of foodgrains for only those who hold Below-Poverty-Line ration cards. Scores of these organizations have also sent telegrams and phonograms to press home the message. This activity is being coordinated by Rationing Kruti Samiti (RKS), in order to bring Mumbai’s affected people within hearing distance of the policy-makers in New Delhi. RKS monitors the implementation of Public Distribution System (PDS), and also other government schemes such as Employment Guarantee Scheme, all over Maharashtra. Aggregating the reports from all the local-level grassroot workers, RKS estimates that over 15,000 poor people have sent postcards this week. A majority of these are women, as they are closer to the ground realities of running a household on shoestring budgets.

The Food Security Bill, in its current form, would restrict the guaranteed supply of foodgrains to holders Below-Poverty-Line (BPL) ration cards, who constitute less than one percent of the poor in Mumbai. The poverty-line, defined as income of Rs 1250 per month per family (about Rs 40 per day per family), is unrealistically low. Breaking up this figure on a per-head basis for a 5-person family, it means that a person who earns over Rs 8 per day – less than the price of a single vada-pav and chai -- falls above the poverty-line. Thus the Poverty Line is actually a level that would indicate death by starvation!

In addition, the present draft of the Food Security Bill, which supposedly seeks to secure all the food entitlements available to the poor, speaks only of providing 25 kgs of foodgrain i.e. rice and wheat to BPL families and excludes essential commodities and of locally available coarse grains like jowar and bajra. It is also silent on all the current schemes for food security like the mid-day meal, Janani Suraksha Yojana, etc. Shockingly, the proposed 25kgs for BPL is less than the current 35 kgs currently guaranteed by the Supreme Court.

RKS has put out a detailed note in Marathi to promote awareness of the implications of the Food Security Bill on the lives of the millions of Mumbai’s poor who are officially Above-Poverty-Line, but whose meager earnings can go the distance only if subsidized foodgrains and essential commodities are available from ration shops. Currently, Mumbai’s APL card holders receive around 15 kg. of subsidized rice or wheat, besides supply of essential commodities like palm oil, sugar and kerosene. However, if the Food Security Bill is passed in its present form, then it will put a big question-mark on the continuance of these life-sustaining entitlements of lakhs of Mumbaikars, besides poor people in many metro cities.

A postcard, costing only 50 paise, is an ideal way for a poor person to get the attention of the powers-that-be. The postcards campaign is seen as an ideal method for even such impoverished citizens to “vote” for good governance by letting their views be known in large numbers. It makes it possible for citizens to go beyond the bare-minimum of an electoral democracy, and embody the ideal of a participatory democracy by casting a vote on issues that deeply concern their lives.

Rationing Kruti Samiti

Draft Food Security Bill:

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