An odd job that was going to earn her some extra money happened to turn 23-year-old Aarthi Jaiswal into a voice for her neighbourhood in Jahangirpuri here. A few months ago she and a group of her friends were hired for Rs.150 per day to conduct a house-to-house survey asking for people’s opinion on the Delhi Government’s proposal to replace the public distribution system with direct cash transfers into individual accounts.
At a public hearing organised by the NGO Lok Shakti Manch on Friday, Aarti shared her experience of visiting people’s homes and ration shops to see whether the PDS is functioning as it should. “I discovered that people in affluent homes had cards that provided them subsidised food grains and those in dilapidated structures did not,” said this Delhi University student. “The quantity that people should receive from ration shops was not being provided to them.”
According to the Government’s proposal, the PDS which provides subsidised foodgrains will be replaced with direct cash subsidies which will be transferred into individuals’ bank accounts every month. However, the Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan, which is a network of about 30 organisations in the city including Lok Shakti Manch, conducted a study entitled ‘Survey on Preference between PDS and Cash Transfers in Delhi’. The results revealed that given a choice between a reformed and improved PDS or cash transfers in lieu of PDS foodgrains, over 90 per cent of the respondents in the sample said that they would prefer a reformed PDS over cash transfer.
“We conducted a survey of more than 4,000 people in our area where 95 per cent of the respondents said that they preferred ration and not cash,” said Pushpa, a member of the Bhalaswa Lok Shakti Manch. “Cancelling ration cards will have adverse effects on the people.”
Activists say studies have been carried out by NGOs on behalf of the Government to show that people would be better off with cash instead of rations and pilot studies have been undertaken in Raghubir Nagar in West Delhi and will soon be conducted in Jahangirpuri as well.
At the public hearing, residents shared the problems they faced at the ground level such as the inability to change the name on the ration cards, retrieving cards that have been surrendered without their knowledge and receiving less quantity than entitled. “I haven’t received rations in two months,” said a distraught Meena Devi, a resident of a jhuggi-jhompri colony in the area. Another resident, Roshan Riyasan, talked about her 11-year-long struggle to get the name on the ration card changed.
Others recounted tales of standing in long queues in the heat but being denied proper rations. “The card was thrown at my face and I was asked to get lost,” said an elderly resident. The area’s residents have submitted a memorandum to several authorities with 4,500 signatures rejecting the cash transfers in food scheme and demanding greater accountability in the PDS.