Maharashtra govt: Advance ration at one go not possible

Sandeep A Ashar
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To avoid overcrowding at the ration shops, Maharashtra has enhanced working hours for fair price shops, which will now run from 8 am to 8 pm, without break. (Express photo by Pradip Das)

Ration card holders in Maharashtra won’t get advance ration at one go. While Maharashtra’s Food and Civil Supplies Minister Chhagan Bhujbal had last week announced that “all cardholders will be permitted to withdraw three months advance supplies at one go”, the government has now decided against it citing logistical constraints. Food and Civil Supplies Secretary Sanjay Khandare, however, said that cardholders will be permitted to lift April’s ration quota, under the public distribution system, from Wednesday onwards.

Highlighting storage constraints, Controller of Rationing and Director of Civil Supplies for Mumbai and Thane districts Kailash Pagare said, “There isn’t enough storage space available to store the additional ration. Unlike some other place, Mumbai does not have food storage godowns. The ration is directly transported from Food Corporation of India’s warehouse to fair price shops for distribution.” He added that in case of securing three-month advance supplies, ration shop owners would be required to pay three months advance to the transporter, which they had objected to. Under the public distribution system, the poor in Mumbai and Thane districts consume around 34,000 metric tonnes of foodgrains on an average, which are distributed through 4,200 fair price shops.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced additional free ration supplies for the urban poor as part of the Centre’s revival package to combat the coronavirus scare, however, the allotment order to the states has been delayed. Subsequently, Maharashtra has decided to defer supply of the free ration by 10 days.

Under the National Food Security Act, beneficiary families get 3 kg of wheat per person, 2 kg rice per person, and 1 kg coarse grain for Rs 3, Rs 2, and Rs 1, respectively, while Antyodaya cardholders are provided 35 kg foodgrains. Sitharaman had announced an additional 5 kg rice or wheat to each beneficiary free amid the unprecedented shutdown. As per the arrangement, Maharashtra was allotted 5 kg rice supplies per beneficiary under the free scheme. Pagare said that it was decided to independently distribute the free supplies to “avoid confusion and stagger supplies”. Senior officials also said that joint distribution of both the free and the subsidised supplies would have led to diversion in some cases. So, beneficiaries will get only 3 kg wheat, 2 kg rice, and 1 kg pulses to start with.

Pagare has also clarified that only those covered under the Food Security Act will be supplied ration.

Meanwhile, to avoid overcrowding at the ration shops, Maharashtra has enhanced working hours for fair price shops, which will now run from 8 am to 8 pm, without break. In another bid to meet social distancing recommendations, the government has asked rationing officers to stagger distribution by calling beneficiaries in slots. A team of rationing inspectors has been asked to oversee distribution. The state has also roped in Urban Development Principal Secretary Mahesh Pathak to be a part of overseeing efforts for ration distribution after Khandare had to self-isolate himself.