Imposition of any kind of compulsion to buy flags to receive food grains is inhuman and a dangerous step against those struggling to survive,” the food rights group said.
The Right to Food Campaign has expressed its concern over media reports coming from different parts of the country regarding denial of rations to people if they do not purchase the tiranga (national flag) under the Har Ghar Tiranga Abhiyan initiative of the union government on the occasion of 75th year of Independence.
The food rights group said that such denial of ration is patently illegal, in violation of the fundamental right to food guaranteed by the Constitution and reiterated multiple times by the Supreme Court and also the provisions of the National Food Security Act, the food rights group says. “We are alarmed that this reported denial is coming at a time when people are in any case facing extreme economic hardships.”
On Wednesday, a video of a fair price shop owner from Dadupur village in Haryana’s Karnal district forcing customers to buy a flag for Rs. 20 each to obtain their rations under the public distribution system (PDS) had gone viral over cyberspace. The shopkeeper said that he was doing so under instructions from officials.
The union culture ministry immediately stepped in saying that buying the flag was “purely voluntary” and there was “no coercion”.
The culture ministry said it had not issued instructions to state governments to make provision of foodgrains conditional upon purchase of the tricolour.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too stepped in saying that nationalism could never be sold. He said it was shameful that the poor were being made to buy flags for Rs. 20 so that they could get their rations
Food a fundamental right
The Right to Food campaign said that unorganised sector workers, people from marginalised and vulnerable economic backgrounds are facing grave difficulties in affording even two meals a day due to the twin factors of income shock faced by them during COVID-19 lockdowns and the runaway inflation wherein today a gas cylinder is priced at more than Rs. 1,000 and prices of food items have gone up due to imposition of GST.
“The recent Global Nutrition Report 2021 also shows that 71 per cent of Indians cannot afford a healthy diet,” the campaign pointed out in a press release, further saying that “Even the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition report shows that the world is moving backward in efforts to eliminate hunger and malnutrition.”
According to the rights group, the public distribution system and Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) under it contributed to keeping many Indians away from the brink of starvation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Food is a fundamental right of every individual in this country and must not be distorted or denied under any circumstances. Imposition of any kind of compulsion to buy flags to receive food grains is inhuman and a dangerous step against those struggling to survive,” the food rights group said.
It demanded that the government order an enquiry into the reports of denial of rations and taking action against any dealer or official found to be denying ration.
Expand PDS coverage
The food rights group has also demanded widening the coverage of PDS. It said, “In the present scenario, the crucial need is to widen the coverage under the food security net to include non-ration cardholders who are excluded from the ration list but need subsidised or free food grains,” the group said through its press release.
The coverage of the food security net has not been revised since the 2011 census despite the Supreme Court directions in the case of the migrant workers, leading to exclusion of more than 10 crore people from the public distribution system.