When Anil Mahajan, who works at a fair price shop in Kapurthala, Punjab, refused to give free ration to four people whose names were not included in the government provided list of beneficiaries, things turned violent. The men viciously attacked Mahajan, who later succumbed to his injuries on the way to the hospital.
In the course of the lockdown, several instances of violence against fair price shop owners have been reported from across the country, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana, among others. No other state, though, has reported a death. There are 500,000 fair price shops across India, through which 8.1 million targeted beneficiaries in 195 million households have been supplied ration at highly subsidised rates during the lockdown. The district administration gives a list of beneficiaries who fall under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) to the shop owners.
Though a lifeline for poor families, complexities in identifying beneficiaries and ensuring smooth supplies have created problems for these shops. While the buffer stock of rice and wheat of Food Corporation of India (FCI), has been reaching shops across India, NAFED (the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd) is struggling to meet the country’s demand for pulses. As per the government data, only 19,496 tonnes of pulses has reached shops for distribution, much lower than the allocation under PMGKY. “But the wrath is faced by us, not the officials,” says Krishan Bhagwan, owner of a fair price shop in Samalkha, Haryana. According to Purushottam Gupta, who owns fair price shop in East Delhi, they are supposed to receive a commission of Rs 2 for every kilogram of grain disbursed, but “they have not been paid for the last five months. We still continue to give our services”. NAFED has now said supplies for May and June will be delivered on time.
The method of identification of beneficiaries, too, is complicated. “We are trying to help, but our help needs to be seen as an exception, not the rule,” says Pawan Bansal, owner of a fair price shop in Sirsa, Haryana. “Our families, scared for our safety, are asking us to stay at home during the lockdown, but then where will our poor customers go for food?”