Poor execution has put the Jharkhand government’s grandiose plans of distributing free ration to particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) on the ropes.
The state claims that it distributes the ration to the PVTGs at their doorstep. But travel to Baherwa or Androvedo, two of Jharkhand’s most backward villages in the Garhwa and Sahebganj districts respectively, and you discover that families of the Soriya Pahariya - an extremely endangered PVTG - have to dole out up to Rs. 300 to access their free ration.
“This is the saga of not 10 or 50 but thousands of PVTG families, who live in hard-to-reach areas, where the government machinery is absolutely missing,” said Balram, who goes by only one name. An eminent right to food activist and the Supreme Court commissioner’s advisor on the same, he carried out a survey across all PVTG villages, aiming to understand the status of food security implementation in Jharkhand.
“As per the Supreme Court order dated November 28, 2001, ration distribution should be made available free of cost every month to all the PVTG families at a nearest point. Unfortunately, the so-called nearest points for many of the PVTGs means travelling up to 50-60 km to and fro, which consumes an entire day,” he added.
These families can incur massive expenses through travelling - a journey to or back from the delivery point can cost anything between Rs 120-150, while the wages earned from the MNREGA scheme in Jharkhand is only Rs 162 per day.
“We have to hire either a tractor or an auto to fetch the free ration from the block office, which is nearly 30 km from my home. The tractor owner charges roughly around Rs 150 for the trip, which is a lot of money for us,” Narayan Pahariya, a resident of Baherwa village said.
A rough estimate puts the expenses incurred while travelling at Rs 3,600 annually, a sum which could have served the families better in other ways, like educating their children or providing them with better clothing.
Vinay Choubey, secretary, food and public distribution with an additional in-charge of social welfare, seemed unaware of the lapses. “I am wondering where the failure is. We will soon introduce a booth-wise delivery system - similar to voting booths during elections, there will be a delivery point for every one thousand people,” he said.