Raje’s Rajasthan is no land for the poor

The Vasundhara Raje-led BJP govt has denied more than 2 crore people their rights guaranteed under the Food Security Act. Also, lakhs of people have been declared deceased and denied their pensions

Getty Images
Getty Images

Bhasha Singh

The results of the several bypolls held recently in Rajasthan, including those for assembly and parliamentary constituencies, and those of the recent local body elections confirm that the countdown may have started for the Vasundhara Raje government in the state. Rajasthan is scheduled to go for Assembly elections later this year or the beginning of next year, but no later than January 20, 2019. Especially in rural Rajasthan, the BJP seems to have lost a lot of ground. The most significant reason behind this could be depriving crores of people of the benefits of social justice schemes such as food security and pensions. Since December 2013, when the Vasundhara Raje government took charge in Rajasthan, about two crore people have seen their names struck off the Food Security Act (FSA) beneficiary list.

National Herald found in the course of its investigation that things have worsened in the last eight to nine months. According to available government data from August 2017 to January 2018, about 27 per cent of total beneficiaries listed in Food Security Act beneficiary list have been denied wheat grains. On March 20, 2017, the Rajasthan government, in a written reply in the state Assembly (see picture above) stated that 4,40,71,003 people were registered in the FSA list. That means about 1.19 crore people have been denied their rights guaranteed under the Food Security Act.

During the previous Congress-ruled state government’s tenure, the FSA list included 5.46 crore people. As soon as the Raje government took over, it took off about 1.2 crore names from this list. The then principal secretary (food and civil supplies), Subodh Agrawal, had told The Indian Express on April 7, 2016 that 5.46 crore beneficiaries had been listed under the Food Security Act during the Congress regime and, from this, over 1.2 crore names had been removed. He had further stated that over the next six months, the list would be further trimmed to include just 4.26 crore people.

So, if the two government figures are combined, then, at present, more than 2 crore people of Rajasthan, 2.39 crore to be precise, have been cut off from accessing the benefits of the Food Security Act scheme in the absence of any survey. The worst victims of this exercise have been old people, Dalits, women and tribals.

Added to all this, more than 10 lakh pensioners’ names were taken off as well. About three lakhs were shown as deceased on papers. After Dainik Bhaskar published a news report, claiming at least one lakh such people as living, a ruckus ensued. One lakh of these people came forward themselves to prove that they were still living. This process of excluding names continues till date and the poor and the old are the worst hit.

Though the state Food and Civil Supplies Minister, Babu Lal Verma, denied the charge and told National Herald, “If some names were removed by mistake, then corrections are being done...No one will be denied. We are adding the names back,” the ground reports belie his optimism. The rules and procedure to include names are so cumbersome and complex, now it’s almost impossible for a commoner to get it done.

Shankar Singh is a leader of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and works in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan. He said, “The Raje government is bent upon projecting that most of the beneficiaries of the social security schemes are fake. By doing so, they have actually waged a war against the poor.” Singh also pointed out, “Two years ago, in 2016, the government removed names of 10 lakh people from the list without any survey or data. Three lakh among them were declared dead on papers while 2.5 lakh of the ‘dead’ claimed to be alive.”

There are widespread complaints against the Raje government that it is stopping pensions of the poor. In this regard, Singh said, “The extent of their insensitivity can be gauged from the fact that when we told them that the people whose pensions were stopped were very poor and their pension should be released with arrears, the government just turned a blind eye towards it.”

This systematic suspension of the poors’ rights like Food Security and old age pensions can lead to political repercussions for the Raje government. Prominent leader of the RTI movement and Magsaysay Award winner Aruna Roy felt “This crushing of the rights of the poor will have its echo in the political corridors.”

The state Congress unit sees this as an opportunity to turn it into a public issue and paint the BJP government as anti-poor. Congress leader Sachin Pilot, said: “The Vasundhara Raje government of Rajasthan is against the poor and the common citizen of the state. It is depriving them of their rights.”

The disenchantment with the state government is so high that it is taking the shape of a movement of which civil rights groups are at the forefront.

Jitendra Chachar, a social activist working among the farmers, said, “Rajasthan is boiling. Rights of every section are being denied, farmers are protesting, Dalits are angry and the poor and the marginalised are feeling cheated.”

Added to this, a huge scam seems to have been at work involving PDS-supplied foodgrains that could surface any time. “With the list of beneficiaries trimmed and with mandatory introduction of POS (point of sale) machines, every month the number of people availing PDS benefits is reducing or fluctuating but, surprisingly, the amount of wheat lifted from FCI is not showing proportional changes,” Nesar Ahmad, Director of Budget Analysis and Research Centre Trust, said.

In October 2017, Dainik Bhaskar had published news stories about how food grains supplied under the PDS scheme were being sold in the black market and people were being denied their rations.

Right to Food activist Vineet raises this point: “If we evaluate government data and gather the number of the citizens procuring only wheat from the government, it will be clear that in the last six months, 20 to 25 per cent people are not being able to avail PDS supply rations. About 4 lakh people at present have been put in the abeyance list and they have been taken off the list under the Food Security Act.”

Almost half of these people are migrant workers. These people come back from their workplace after months and find their names struck off the list. These are extremely poor workers.

Initially, the authority of cutting out the beneficiary’s name was given to the ration dealer and the dealer worked arbitrarily. Because the entire focus of the government was on reducing the number of people availing the ration facility, the entire administration was also preoccupied with cutting out names from the list. The worst hit have been the old people and the helpless. “There is a lot of resentment among people about this,” Vineet said.

Denial of the benefits of the Food Security Act and pensions in such large numbers without any concrete basis, highlights the anti-poor attitude of the Raje government. And there is severe discontent amongst the people. This can well prove to be the biggest anti-incumbency factor which may upset the BJP’s electoral applecart as and when Rajasthan votes for its next government.

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