India’s food subsidy program is one of the largest in the world. The public distribution system in India provides nearly 800 million people with grain through a network of over half a million fair price shops (Worldbank, 2019). However, it’s also one that has been ridden with systemic issues that often keep it from being implemented smoothly and reaching its beneficiaries efficiently. ​

A complaints redress session was held with the PCMC Zonal Ration Officer on March 7, 2014 to address the many problems with the ration scheme. Waste pickers registered their complaints about how the Public Distribution System scheme is being subverted by the shopkeepers and other vested interests to deprive the poor of their quotas of food grains. Complaints were put forth of ration cards not being stamped (rendering them invalid) or being taken away for stamping and not returned or returned but as a different category card; shopkeepers were overcharging and/or giving lower quantities than were due (a family of 5 should get 25 kg but shopkeepers were giving only 15); no receipts; loutish, rude shopkeepers who abused the women, mishandled their cards and treated with a complete lack of respect; no consistency of timings – most ration shops are to be open in a morning and evening slot, and it is the evening slot after work when most waste pickers collect their rations not open but many shops don’t bother to open in the evening. The Zonal Ration Officer listened with empathy and sincerely assured us that he would look into and rectify the grievances.

Relentless pursuit for the right to food

“In September 2020, when I went to the ration shop, I did not know that I would have to return home empty handed. It felt terrible to be denied my basic right to food, that too in the middle of this pandemic. As the government has mandated that all ration cards be linked with Aadhar, I got mine linked too. While doing so, there seemed to have been some error with the linkage process which not only made me ineligible but instead some family in Baramati was being issued rations under my name. I visited the shop, ration office and even submitted written applications with the help of community workers but nothing seemed to be moving forward, and I genuinely did not feel like pursuing this any further.

In February 2021, with the help of an activist from KKPKP, I decided to reach out to the FDO, Pune seeking a redressal of this issue. They listened to my complaint and directed me to the Parimandal Office asking me to meet the concerned officer. The Ration Officer said that as three months had passed and no one had withdrawn rations, the linkage ceased to exist. The activist filled up an offline application to re-link my ration card with my aadhar card. It was 3.30pm by the time I submitted the form and could feel the hunger pangs as I had directly come to the office after putting the waste in the trucks. I remember going home that day feeling unsure of my efforts. They had asked me to check with the ration shop after forty five days. On 23rd April, I checked and the shopkeeper said that the card had been linked successfully and I would get my share within a week. It was 10th May when I received 12kg wheat and 8kg rice, and returned home with a beaming smile (as I was told by my daughter in law).

I have told everyone in my slum about this and many said that they do not gather the strength to approach offices. In my experience, although the government offices seem daunting, one must not hesitate to pursue something that matters to us so much” – Manda Kamble, a waste collector from Dandekar Pul