THE Delhi state committee of the CPI(M) held a demonstration in front of the Delhi Secretariat on the burning issues of the working people of the state, on February 22. Thousands of workers and activists participated in huge numbers demanding implementation of universal public distribution system in Delhi in its true letter and spirit. While protesters were moving towards the secretariat, police blocked them near the Express building. A protest meeting was held there.
CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat and KM Tiwari, Delhi state secretary of CPI(M) addressed the demonstration. Brinda Karat called upon the protesters to unleash campaign and movement to increase the coverage of PDS for the poor people of Delhi. AAP government is unable to implement PDS in favour of working class which has no other source to feed their family, she said. According to her, in the case of implementation of PDS in the National Capital Region, the record of Kejriwal government is also very poor like other BJP governments. She urged the chief minister to issue universal ration card to each family which requires food items supplied through the PDS.
KM Tiwari demanded increase in the number of food items under the PDS system to benefit the lower rung of population in the society. He also demanded the implementation of the declared minimum wage for the workers of Delhi without any further delay.
A memorandum was submitted to the chief minister on these burning issues. The memorandum noted that the people of Delhi are facing immense hardships due to the unabated rise in prices of edibles, especially pulses and vegetables. The working class and other toilers are the worst victims of this crushing burden. The NDA central government is adding fuel to fire by permitting futures trading in food-grains and not bringing hoarders and black-marketeers to book.
A universal public distribution system can go a long way in curbing food inflation. Unfortunately, what we have witnessed in the past few years is the contraction rather than expansion of PDS coverage in Delhi. Thus while the total ration cards issued in Delhi in 2012-13 was 34.35 lakhs, their number fell drastically to 19,29,223 in 2016-17. The number of beneficiaries of PDS in Delhi today stands at 72.60 lakhs which is well within the limit of 72.78 lakhs mandated by the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution, government of India in the Targeted PDS Control Order dated March 20, 2015.
Keeping the rate of decadal growth in population during 2001-2011 in mind, the population of Delhi in 2012 should have been around 1 crore 71 lakhs. By the same measure it would be about 1 crore 91 lakhs in 2017. Population has increased by about 20 lakhs in this period while the number of ration cards has fallen by over 15 lakhs. The net result is that only 38 per cent of Delhi’s population is covered by the PDS. The drastic curtailment in the number of cards and beneficiaries is the direct result of the erstwhile Planning Commission limiting the number of beneficiaries of the Food Security Act in Delhi to 43.59 per cent of urban and 37.69 per cent of rural households. Further, the Planning Commission had pegged the poverty line in Delhi at a ridiculously low monthly per capita income of Rs 1,134 for those living in urban and 1,145 for those living in rural areas. This poverty line is more like a starvation line.
There is an urgent need to bring about drastic changes in the PDS in order to provide relief to the people. In this regard we have the following to state:
i. Many state governments have rejected the limits on beneficiaries placed by the Food Security Act and are spending extra out of their own resources to widen the net of coverage. Tamil Nadu has universal coverage with no exclusion on the basis of income. Unfortunately, the AAP government like its Congress predecessor is one of the few state governments who refuse to follow this path. This is highly unjust. We therefore demand that all households in Delhi should have the right to avail of cheap rations through the PDS.
ii. Prior to the passage of the Food Security Act, families with Antyodaya, BPL, jhuggi and resettlement colony ration cards got 35 kg of foodgrains per month through the PDS. Under the Food Security Act, while Antyodaya families continue to get 35 kg foodgrains per month, those with Priority (erstwhile BPL) cards get 5 kg per head per month. As a result, a BPL family of four is now getting just 20 kg of food-grains instead of 35 kg. Thus instead of increasing food security of BPL sections, the Act has achieved the opposite. This injustice must be undone by restoring the right of all erstwhile holders of BPL, jhuggi and resettlement colony ration cards to 35 kg food grains per month.
iii. However, ensuring 35 kg of food grains per month to Antyodaya and priority category families and including all households under PDS coverage is not enough to offset the immense burden of price rise in edibles. This can be done if sugar, daals, salt, edible oil etc are also provided at cheap rates via the PDS. States like Kerala, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Tripura and Rajasthan are doing so in different measure with positive results. The AAP government too should ensure availability of sugar, daals, salt, spices and edible oil at cheap rates through the PDS.
iv. Many people are being denied rations due to problems arising out of introduction of machines to identify beneficiaries. Often ration card holders have to stand in line for hours as internet services required for these machines to function are not available. Similarly there are many complaints regarding machines being unable to identify bona fide ration card holders via their thumb print. This is because thumb prints of those working with their hands are prone to change. In both cases, poor people are harassed or denied rations. In light of this it would be better to revert to the old system of identifying beneficiaries on the basis of their photos on their ration cards.
v. A big part of supplies earmarked for the PDS are sold in the black market through the connivance of Food and Supply Department officials and Fair Price Shop owners. As a result, people are often denied their due quota of ration. The ration provided is often sub-standard. Similarly there are complaints about FPS owners not opening their shops regularly etc. Stern action should be taken against officials and FPS owners guilty of corruption in order to ensure that people get their due quotas of ration of a proper quality in a timely manner.
vi. Non-implementation of the Essential Commodities Act is a major reason behind high prices of essential commodities. The chief minister was urged to enforce the Essential Commodities Act and ensure that all hoarders and black-marketeers are brought to book.
CPI(M) demand the AAP government the following:
a. Include all households in beneficiaries of the PDS.
b. Provide each nuclear family 35 kg food-grains per month at Rs 2 a kg.
c. Provide sugar, daals, salt, spices and edible oil at cheap rates through PDS.
d. Ensure full and good quality ration to card holders and timely opening of FP Shops.
e. Stop using machines to identify PDS beneficiaries.
f. Take stern action against black-marketeers of ration and bring hoarders to book.
The CPI(M) also drew the attention of the state government to the condition of the working class in Delhi. The government had increased minimum wages by 37 per cent in March 2017. However, these wage rates are not being implemented in private concerns. This matter is pending in the Delhi High Court since March 2017. The government has not taken any initiative to expedite matters in the court case. Nor is it interested in getting even the old wage rates implemented. As a result the vast majority of Delhi’s workers get wages as low as Rs 5,000 to 7,000.
Another major issue is that of safety of workers. This has been tragically brought to the fore by the recent incident of fire in a factory in Bawana that led to the deaths of 19 workers. There have been several incidents of workers losing their lives while cleaning sewers. There are thousands of industrial units that are in gross violation of minimum safety provisions.
Workers of such concerns are forced to work for 12-13 hours a day without any payment of overtime and are deprived of statutory facilities like PF and ESI. Unfortunately, the Delhi government is not making any efforts to rectify the above situation.
During the assembly elections, AAP had promised to make all contract employees working on jobs of a perennial nature permanent. Unfortunately it has not taken any steps in this direction. As a result the majority of Delhi’s workers in the private sector are forced to work on contract basis. What is worse is the fact that over 50 per cent of those employed by the state government are also contract workers.
This situation is unacceptable, therefore the CPI(M) has demanded the following:
a. Ensure payment of minimum wages.
b. Vigorously pursue the case regarding minimum wages pending in the Delhi High Court.
c. Ensure that workers are not denied benefit of other statutory entitlements like PF and ESI.
d. Stop imposition of over 8 hours daily work on workers without overtime payment.
e. Ensure safety measures in all industrial units, shops, restaurants and other establishments.
f. Make all contract employees working on jobs of a perennial nature permanent. Ensure same pay for same work.