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‘Solely dependent on ration’ but Lucknow’s poor yet to get the promised free grains, pulses




A woman stands in queue outside the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
A woman stands in a queue outside the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

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Lucknow: Sunila, a domestic sanitary worker and mother of three living in the Dalibagh slum in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow, is aware of the Narendra Modi government’s Garib Kalyan Yojana for free grains and pulses announced amid the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. But she does not know when she will be able to take home the food items.

“I heard the Modi sarkar announced extra ration since the beginning of the lockdown itself but when we come here, after waiting for hours, we only receive the usual (grain) amount,” the 42-year-old told ThePrint Saturday outside the local public distribution system (PDS) ration shop.

According to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s welfare package announced on 26 March, each PDS beneficiary like Sunila is eligible for 5 kg rice or wheat along with 1 kg of pulses free of cost for three months. But nearly three weeks after the announcement, there is no sign of the promised free grains and pulses at the PDS ration shops in Lucknow.

“I have just received the usual 15 kg of wheat and 10 kg of rice on the pre-existing rates as there is no distribution of free grains yet,” she added. Under the current rates, wheat costs Rs 2 per kg while rice costs Rs 2.

For most of the people standing at the Dalibagh ration shop, barely 3 km from the UP state assembly building, the PDS is the only source of food left after the three-week nationwide lockdown from 24 March wiped out all employment prospects for daily wage labourers.

People outside the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
People outside the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

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‘Solely dependent on ration’

A similar scene could be seen at the Jopling Road ration shop in Lucknow as scores of people from the adjoining slum of Teesri Basti lined up to take the allocated ration, with occasional arguments over the non-availability of free grains and pulses.

Bhanumati Devi, who works as a domestic help, and her husband, who pulls a cycle-rickshaw for a living, have both lost their respective livelihoods due to the lockdown.

“All of the people I used to work for have asked me to leave until the lockdown gets over as they are doing all the cooking, cleaning and washing themselves, which means there is no salary for me. Hence I’m solely dependent on the ration,” she said.

“We are still getting ration as per the old norms but there is no income now by which we use to purchase additional ration and vegetables. So this gets exhausted quickly, as a result of which my children have to eat rice with mustard oil and salt during this lockdown,” Bhanumati added.

People in a queue at the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
People standing in a queue at the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

Arun Kumar, the manager of the Jopling Road PDS ration shop, told ThePrint, “This is a daily issue. Every day, someone or the other asks for the free grain and pulses but no allocation has been made to the state godowns yet.”

He added, “The free ration is only available for MNREGA, Antyodaya and safai karamchari (sanitary workers) beneficiaries.”

These three category of beneficiaries receive the free ration over and above the regular allocation. However, this is separate from the scheme announced on 26 March, which is applicable to all PDS beneficiaries.

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What the government says

Speaking to ThePrint, a senior official in the consumer affairs department of the central government said, “While there is ample stock of pulses with NAFED amounting over 34.25 metric tonnes, most of these are whole grams directly procured from farmers which is to be milled and processed, for which the Centre needs the assistance of private mills too. But they are suffering a huge labour shortage.”

NAFED, or the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation, has been appointed as the nodal agency to execute supply of pulses to all states and union territories.

A majority of the states are also yet to lift the additional grain for their godowns for the distribution of free grains and pulses, said the official, who did not wish to be named.

“States are still working on the requisition as they have to submit planning and transportation strategy from the godowns of FCI (Food Corporation of India) which has been heavily delayed from major states as they are still focused in implementing the lockdown,” added the official.

Ashok Thakur, the central government’s nominee on the NAFED board, said, “The framework related to lifting and transportation of pulses in various states is yet to be submitted by them due to the lockdown. We are ready with the stock on our front.”

He added, “We have commenced delivery of pulses to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Haryana, Goa, Andaman & Nicobar Islands for their quota of three months under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojna but the framework with the other states is still being worked out.”

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Fingerprint verification increasing Covid-19 risk

Most of the beneficiaries at the PDS ration shops in Lucknow are facing one more threat — the coronavirus infection itself.

Even as they apply social distancing protocols while awaiting their turns, and also use masks, the ration shops are using a thumbprint machine for each and every beneficiary to ascertain their allocation.

The usage of fingerprint verification at the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
Fingerprint verification at the Dalibagh ration shop in Lucknow. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

At the Dalibagh ration shop, everyone was being told to use the machine but there was no provision of a hand sanitiser there.

“We live in slums, but even then no sanitary precautions have been provided to us by the government. Here also, the fingerprint verification is mandatory and there is no soap or sanitiser provided to wash our hands after the verification,” Suman, one of the PDS beneficiaries, told ThePrint outside the store.

Asked about this, Dalibagh ration shop manager Dinesh Singh expressed helplessness.

“There used to be large cases of impersonation of the beneficiaries in the PDS ration shops, which would lead to fights every other day,” said Singh. “Things have improved after thumbprint verification. Some of the beneficiaries whose thumbs or fingers have a cut or wound remain out (of the process, but this is very helpful in identifying the right person so we can’t do away with it.”

Singh added the government hasn’t provided an advisory on how to deal with an alternative to the fingerprint verification method.

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’




doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay

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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”

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‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.

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