Karnataka cuts PDS rations to a quarter, adds insult to injury with lockdown

Karnataka Pandemic Top Story

BPL (Below Poverty Line) cardholders are only receiving a quarter of the rations from fair price shops compared to earlier in the year, as Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana runs its course.

Bengaluru: Rathnamma was surprised when the clerk in her local PDS (Public distribution system) fair price shop charged a fraction of the usual amount for her ration. Initially, she thought the government must have reduced the prices in order to support the poor. But then she saw the quantity of grains she was receiving—a fraction of the usual quantity—and realised, with a sense of betrayal, the actual reason.

A resident of Harohalli town, Ramanagara district, Rathnamma works as a domestic help. During the lockdown, she lost her job working in a garment factory. For years now, she’s been dependent on the PDS system to get affordable rations. Hence, when the government cut the quantity of grains being distributed through PDS in April to a quarter, “How can they do this now?” she asked. “At over Rs. 40 per kilo, I can’t afford sanna akki (rice) from the market, it’s too expensive,” she said. “Without the depot (PDS shop), it’s hard for us to survive.”

On 28, 2021, an audio recording of Karnataka’s Food and Civil Supplies Minister Umesh Katti asking a youth to die went viral. The controversial outburst by the minister was in response to the youth, from rural Belagavi, asking the minister if people should live or die, with the government reducing the quantities of rice in PDS shops.

BPL(Below Poverty Line) ration cardholders used to receive seven kgs of rice , and three kgs of ragi , as well as  three kgs of wheat per family of four, according to S. Satish Kumar, a clerk at a PDS fair price shop.

The current BJP government led by B.S. Yediyurappa has been reducing the varieties and qualities of ration that was distributed in fair price shops, since they came into power in 2019.

“During the Siddaramaiah government, we used to get 10 kilos of rice per person, along with ragi, toor dal, sugar and even sunflower oil,” said Sundramma, a resident of Kolliganahalli. 

The distribution of rations such as pulses, sugar and cooking oil were stopped in early 2020, when the government prioritized essential grains, according to Mr. Satish Kumar. 

“After lockdown, the Modi scheme (Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana) came into effect,” he said. “People used to get as much as 10 kilos of rice every month. But, now that it’s over, the government has sent an order asking to only distribute two kilos of rice per person.”

The PMGKAY scheme was launched by the central government early last year to support the poor, hit hard by the economic disruptions of Covid-19. Initially intended to be for a period of three months, the scheme was extended multiple times until December 2020.

“Due to the effects of the pandemic, access to nutritious food has decreased, as more and more people are falling back into poverty” said Dr Tara M. S, a food science and nutrition expert. “The government should prioritize providing the poor with suitable food grains based on the region and availability. Providing pulses and other supplementary items wherever possible will also help fight undernourishment.”

After several states including Karnataka went into lockdown to curb the second wave of Covid-19, the centre has once again announced that it will extend the scheme for the months of May–-June 2021. It’s unclear whether the extension of the scheme will allow the Karnataka government to increase the quantity of grains once again.