Colours of Confusion

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The ration card shuffle

So far, the residents of Jagdamba camp, a slum cluster in south Delhi, have had their lives defined by a tricolour. Their ration cards are yellow, red or white, and their foodgrain entitlement depends on the colour: yellow cards for BPL (below poverty line) families, red for the poorest-of-poor under India’s Antyodaya scheme, and white for poor-but-APL (above poverty line) families that earn under Rs 1 lakh a year. These are now meant to be replaced with National Food Security cards, which promise not to slot anyone by colour, but the irony, in all the confusion over the transition, is how it could worsen the divisions.

Red is the colour of the season. Its holders still get 35 kg of grain per month for a family, while yellow and white beneficiaries would now get only 5 kg per person, albeit cheaper. Meanwhile, it is not clear if everyone entitled to Food Security handouts will get a card. Delhi has only 7.3 million beneficiaries earmarked for cards, while all the people in households that hold the city’s 1.8 million ration cards would number at least 8.8 million. Plus, there are large numbers of non-cardholders, migrants and others who deserve cards. Will they get them? With polls coming up, the Election Commission will not let new cards be issued. Aadhaar cards were supposed to weed out bogus ration claims, but they are not compulsory for public schemes, as the Supreme Court has ruled. All considered, it looks like hordes and hordes may be left out of coverage, leaving the food security of slumdwellers at the mercy of ration shopkeepers in the interim.

--Text by Ruhani Kaur


Madina Begum, with her failing eyesight, struggles to find the vein of a nine-month pregnant woman as she gives her a glucose bottle. A widow who has worked as a midwife all her life, Madina now barely has any patients and earns up to Rs 2,000 in a good month. Her three sons have their own jhuggis and ration cards. She has a yellow card with only her own name on it, so she gets 5 kg of foodgrain as her family ration; until last month, she got 35 kg.

Excess handouts must end, says Delhi Food Commssioner SS Yadav: “I eat two meals a day, and for me 4 kg wheat and 1 kg rice a month is more than enough.” The slumdwellers of Jagdamba contest his claim, saying that since they have no other supplementary food, that quantity does not last even a week. “The entitlement hasn’t been tabulated according to the nutritional requirements of an individual but what the Food Corporation of India can allocate,” adds Yadav


Nishaji’s family has ten members listed on her white ration card. Yet the local PDS shop only lets her buy 15 kg of wheat and 4 kg of rice at the new lower prices. There are two things wrong with her card. First, it is not stamped with her family entitlement, though it should be, according to government records. And second, it says they live in a ‘house’ while they actually live in a jhuggi, thanks to a legal tangle over the status of their slum. Under the Centre’s Food Security Act, she is entitled to 40 kg of grain and 10 kg rice per month


Haran is a 23-year old MBA student working with Shoppers’ Stop at Delhi’s Saket Select City Mall. The family had been cardless, being tenants, but now that they have their own jhuggi, they can at least apply for a ration card. He works as a car cleaner in the mornings. A woman whose car he’d been cleaning for years recently gave him Rs 30,000 to buy a Lenovo laptop when she saw him struggling to access his online study material for an MBA he is pursuing in correspondence with Sikkim Manipal University. With so many others like him waiting to claim their ration supplies for the first time, Delhi may face shortages


Saddam Hussain, a 25 year-old who works with the Jaypee Group, lives with his wife and seven-month-old son in a jhuggi on rent. Life as a tenant means he must stay cardless. This is because there is no way for him to have his address verified, as required by the issuance protocol. Two claimants to the same address pose a problem; since his landlord has used it for his own card, Hussain cannot. Many others in his position use fake data, but he has not. He is among those who have no hope of a card, much less of claiming anything the State claims to have arranged for his welfare


The ration shopkeeper would let 59-year-old Zarina buy foodgrain only at regular prices, even though she had a red card for her share of subsidised ration. He would use his own thumb impression on her entitlement sheet in the Public Distribution System logbook. The stock he gave her was unappetising and often had insects crawling out of it. He would threaten her if she complained. He even chased her with a rock. Eventually, activists heard of this injustice. They took up the case and filed an RTI query, which revealed that he had even used his toe stamp to falsify her records. The ration shop has since been sealed


Life has been sedate for 48-year-old Amar Singh, a car cleaner and jhuggi owner who moved to Delhi from his village after the trauma of losing two of his children. His health has weakened, but watching his four-and-half-year-old Saurav grow is joy enough. His earnings have risen from Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,500 a month since 2002, when he was classified as BPL. He had a yellow card. When ration cards were renewed in 2008, he got a red card, not because any survey assessed him eligible for Antyodaya handouts, but on some official’s whim: he was among the luckiest of the lucky