Amid lockdown, Gujarat to provide free ration to 60 lakh families

The state government has also said it will ensure that Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMC), especially for vegetables, remain open.

The Gujarat government on Wednesday decided to provide free foodgrains to 60 lakh families with ration cards from April 1 in the wake of coronavirus outbreak and the 21-day lockdown across the country.

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said that the decision was taken to ensure that the daily wage earners do not find difficulty in getting food supplies.

“Those who are daily wage earners -- about 60 lakh families consisting of 3.25 crore people -- the government is ensuring that they do not face problems regarding food. All those who have ration cards will be provided free foodgrains from April 1,” the Chief Minister said.

The fair price shops that are part of the Public Distribution System will provide 3.5 kilograms of wheat and 1.5 kilograms of rice per person. The shops will also provide one kilogram of sugar, dal and salt each per family.

The government’s announcement came at a time when the migrant labourers and daily wage earners are leaving the state due to lack of employment and food supplies. Rupani said the state government will take more measures to address their problems.

Officials said that the rations that will be distributed through fair price shops have already been sent in advance to at least 3,500 out of the 17,000 shops in the state. The distribution will be carried out in a systematic manner and ensuring that crowds do not gather before these shops.

The state government has also decided to extend the repayment schedule for loans taken by farmers by two-three months.

"Farmers take short term loans from the banks. Considering the current situation posed by COVID-19, they might find it difficult to repay loans by March 31. So the state government has decided to extend the repayment schedule by two or three months," Ashwani Kumar, Secretary to the Chief Minister, said adding that the state government will be seeking Centre's permission and will also be paying the state's share of additional interest.

Kumar said that the decision was taken after several requests from the farming community.

The state government has also said it will ensure that Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMC), especially for vegetables, remain open.

The chief minister will also hold a video-conference with the owners of flour, pluses and rice mills in Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara and Dahod districts. "This is to ensure that there is continuous supply of these three commodities," Kumar added.

Officials said that 53,000 quintals of vegetables were being distributed across 70 large markets in the state. This includes 22,500 quintals of green vegetables, 17,360 quintals of potato and 4,480 quintals of onions and 8,700 quintals of tomatoes. "We are also ensuring that the vegetable supply coming from other states are also not hampered," Kumar said adding that if any vehicles carrying essential supplies are stopped then the government will step in and resolve the issue.

Despite the assurances given by the government, several retailers selling essential items said they encountered hurdles on the first day of the 21-day lockdown.

Syed Nadeem Jafri who operates grocery chain, Hearty Mart, said his two stores selling food and essential items were forced to shut down on Wednesday morning. "The stores were asked to close down after a large number of people began gathering at our stores in Dholka taluka of Ahmedabad. We will have to come up with a more effective way to manage buyers," said Nadeem.
He also said that the chain have items that will last only for two more days. "There is no inward supply chain. We get our supply from Kalupur and other areas of Ahmedabad. There is no supply now and we are running out of edible oil and wheat flour," said Nadeem.

Meanwhile, the local administration has taken a slew of measures to enforce social distancing more rigorously.

The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has shifted the vegetable and fruit markets from Jamalpur underbridge to Sabarmati riverfront area in order to avoid crowding.

To avoid any disruption in the supply of essential commodities, the AMC has floated a facility of transportation service to and from the residential area to the nearest vegetable market.

"Designated representative of the residential society, colony or area would be provided transportation facility where he would be taken to the nearest vegetable market to buy vegetables and fruits for the entire society. He will also be dropped back," said Deputy Municipal Commissioner Mukesh Gadhvi.

The permission for the representative would be available through WhatsApp.

Further, the AMC has sought volunteers for supply of pre-cooked food packets or food material for the homeless, those in quarantine; voluntary doctors and nurses; medical equipment like ventilators, sanitation supply and accommodation for needy persons. Those willing to help can register at the AMC website.
The AMC has also earmarked areas outside 2183 grocery and vegetable units, medical stores and pharmacies and milk parlours across the city for the customers to wait.

Meanwhile, the Vadodara police, district and city administrations began implementation of social distancing at local stores and supermarkets across the city.

To ensure an uninterrupted supply of essential items, District Collector Shalini Agrawal held meetings with traders of foodgrains and has appointed sub-divisional magistrates and Mamlatdars at the taluka level to immediately resolve any issues in transportation of essential items. ‘

It has been decided to launch a district helpline 1077 for traders to seek help in resolving any issues pertaining to the transport vehicles. The administration will also issue limited passes to transport vehicles and staff to keep the supply chain going. "We are coordinating to ensure that there is no delay and all food grains reach the markets. The officers will resolve any complaints that we receive and we have also launched the helpline to allow traders to seek immediate solution," Agrawal said.

The Vadodara Municipal Corporation also held a meeting with local stores and milk parlours, asking them to ensure that they remain open. Municipal Commissioner Nalin Upadhyay visited various supermarkets to take stock of the arrangements and also the social distancing measures. "More than 1000 medical and provision stores and over 2000 milk parlours will remain open and we have also asked supermarkets to set up helplines to start home deliveries so that people don't have to step out," Upadhyay said.

The Kheda District Collector has issued prohibitory order against use of vehicles during the lockdown. People coming out to buy groceries from neighbourhoods have been told to walk to the stores.