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Incomes plummeted during the lockdown. Many returned home after factories downed shutters. Jobs dried up while agricultural activity ebbed.
It was in these times of despair that demand for subsidised ration shot up across the country, with people below the poverty line (BPL) flocking to PDS shops.
But, it was not just BPL families. Statistics show there was a surge in subsidised ration being availed of by even those in the “above poverty line (APL)” category under various state schemes.
To be eligible for an APL ration card in rural areas, the beneficiary’s annual income has to be between Rs 44,000 and Rs 1 lakh per year. In urban areas, the range is Rs 59,000 to Rs 1 lakh per year. This means that in urban areas, an APL card holder’s monthly income averages between Rs 4,916 and Rs 8,333.

In May and June, 2.6 crore APL beneficiaries in Maharashtra purchased ration grains, indicating the severe income stress in the state at the time. The state added 15.5 lakh ration cards in April alone, accounting for inclusion of over 66 lakh BPL beneficiaries in its regular ration scheme. A comparison between April and the pre-lockdown month of February shows that the number of ration cards issued under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) rose from over 1.4 crore to nearly 1.6 crore. The number of beneficiaries rose from a little over 6 crore to close to 6.7 crore over this period. Ration distributed under this scheme rose by 1.5 lakh quintals.
Bengal witnessed an extraordinary surge in demand for ration cards during the lockdown. As many as 67 lakh ration cards have been added so far since April. Both NFSA and non-NFSA categories of ration card-holders now get 2kg of wheat and 3kg of rice per month at no cost. A little over 3.3 crore APL card-holders availed of ration between April and August this year, with 14 lakh quintal being distributed.
The number of APL card-holders availing of ration shot up to 1.7 lakh in August in Karnataka, while this number stood at 80,000 in February.
From 72,000 MT of foodgrain distributed in April in Kerala to APL card-holders, the quantity distributed spiked to 1.20 lakh MT in Kerala. Goa saw a sudden spike in APL card-holders availing of foodgrain through PDS in April, which officials said was due to panic stocking of food.
In many states, migrants returning home became beneficiaries, leading to a spike in demand. The UP government issued nearly 12 lakh more ration cards in the last five months of the pandemic, which included cards to migrants who came back following the lockdown.
Himachal Pradesh saw a surge of migrants returning between May and July. In May alone, over 1.4 lakh migrants were provided 10,803 quintal free ration under the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme. Till July end, over 2.3 lakh migrants were provided 18,700 quintals of ration.
Not just migrants, UP has covered over 94% of the targeted population by distributing 3.6 crore cards.
Odisha has added around 1.7 lakh new ration cards covering around 5 lakh population since March under the State Food Security Scheme. These beneficiaries were left out of the NFSA that covers around 92 lakh families in the state.
The demand rose so high in Jharkhand that the state cabinet last month decided to roll out a new food security scheme for 15 lakh people who are not NFSA beneficiaries. The new scheme was rolled out due to a high number of ration card applications.
Madhya Pradesh added more than 30 lakh beneficiaries of subsidised foodgrain by increasing the number of ration cards. More than 12 lakh new ration cards were issued. Rajasthan, too, saw a spike in demand for wheat distributed through PDS in April and May, with close to one lakh MT wheat being distributed in April. The quantity went up later.
When Tamil Nadu extended cash support of Rs 1,000 each to card-holders and free supply of certain foodgrain to every card-holder in April, the demand for new cards began rising. There were 2.4 lakh card holders and 6.9 lakh beneficiaries joining PDS since April 1.
Similarly, the Bihar government’s decision to provide free rice and wheat to ration card-holders led to a surge in card-seekers. Till July, about 24 lakh families had been added to the list of 1.4 crore families getting foodgrain from PDS.
Gujarat saw a marginal rise of 7% in foodgrain distribution through PDS outlets during the lockdown and in the following months till August.
(With inputs from Mumbai, Lucknow, Shimla, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Bhubaneshwar, Ranchi, Kochi, Bhopal, Chennai, Patna, Goa and Ahmedabad)

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