Ration cards elude locality where 3 died of hunger in Delhi
Following the deaths on July 24 last year, the Delhi government promised to provide all families in the building with ration cards so that they could avail the government’s food security schemes.Updated: Apr 08, 2019 07:44 IST
Eight months after three minor girls died of starvation in a room in a three-storey building in an urban slum in East Delhi, the other 30-odd families in the same building — each lives in a room that is eight feet by four feet — are still awaiting the ration cards promised during the wave of shock and government action that followed the deaths.
Right opposite the room where the three girls died lives the family of Ayesha Khatoon, 34. It’s been 13 years since her family moved to Delhi from a small village in Uttar Pradesh in search of a livelihood, but she still hasn’t managed a ration card.
Following the deaths on July 24 last year, the Delhi government promised to provide all families in the building with ration cards so that they could avail the government’s food security schemes.
Only those with an annual income of less than ₹1 lakh are entitled for subsidised wheat and rice under the National Food Security (NFS) Act, 2013.
The building, at Mandawali’s Talab Chowk, has around 45 windowless rooms, almost all as small as the Khatoon home, across three floors. The three girls lived there with their father and a mentally unstable mother.
“We had all the legal documents required for getting a ration card but since the room is on rent the officers wanted the landlord’s photo-identity proof, which he would just refuse to give. After the girls died of hunger, an army of officers visited the place and recorded details of each house, assuring us that cards would be made,” said Khatoon showing a receipt saying her ration card application form had been submitted on August 2.
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia visited the building on July 26 and assured residents that their cards would be made. Sisodia’s office declined comment on the issue.
The last time the residents checked at the local Kalyan Vas circle office on April 1, the status of the applications still showed pending.
A senior official from the Kalyan Vas office, who did not wish to be named, said that a lot of applications are still being processed: “All new applications are in waiting. We are considering the pending applications in a chronological order, according to year when we received the application. Currently we are considering applications that were received or rejected in 2014-15 for various reasons”.
He added that the department is short-staffed.
Khatoon says her family urgently needs the rations.
“The room rent is ₹2,500 besides the electricity bill and water supply charges. We make around ₹7,000 -8,000 every month. Getting at least basic foodgrains on ration will help us.” Both she and her husband are engaged in stitching work.
Her story finds an echo in almost every room.
“Soon after the girls’ death, officials came to the building and recorded videos of all the families. They told us that our cards would be made within three months. I filled up the form. Nobody has returned to check on us since,” said Gita, 29, holding on to her receipt tightly.
Apart from Sisodia, local member of Parliament, Manoj Tiwari of the Bharatiya Janata Party too visited the building in the aftermath of the tragedy.
The families are hoping that political leaders will come to their rescue now, with the Lok Sabha elections round the corner.
Another resident, Munni Devi, 55, said: “Most people here have Aadhaar cards issued on their village address. The officials at the ration card office told us to get the address changed to apply for the card.” That will take money she can’t afford, Devi added.
Other residents said they were fleeced by some private agents for getting Aadhaar cards made and do not want to go through the process again.
The lanes leading up to the yellow-coloured building are unpaved with open drains. The area outside is used both as a parking space as well as a garbage dump.
According to officials in Delhi government’s food and civil supplies department, under current rules, eligible applicants are required to have the same address on the Aadhaar card as the one where they currently reside.
“Under the public distribution system, a module is being developed by the Centre to enable beneficiaries to procure ration anywhere in the country with the card issued to them on the permanent address or any other place. Till the system comes into implementation, applicants have to submit Aadhaar having a Delhi address,” said a senior official who asked not to be named.
Anjali Bhardwaj of the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan, an NGO, said: “The National Food Security Act is a rights-based legislation. Making identity proof such as Aadhaar mandatory for procuring ration leads to exclusion of the poorest. Most of these people are migrants working as manual labourers; making them subject to proof for basic right to food is not acceptable. We have also filed a PIL in the Delhi HC in this regard.”
The NFSA provides for transparency and accountability, under which a food state commission had to be set up in each state for grievance redressal.
“The commission has still not been set up in Delhi and many people are denied their right to food. Under the Act, the state is required to conduct periodic social audits of such areas, which too has not been done,” said Arvind Singh of Matri Sudha , an NGO that works in the area of child welfare.