Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department (Erstwhile CAPD or Food & Supplies) has played a pivotal role in addressing hunger and maintaining food security among the poor and needy more so in times of natural disasters like floods, earthquakes in the valley. Having been part of this department post 2014 floods in the valley, reaffirmed my faith about its potential role and significance towards food security. Present challenge of Covid-19 pandemic has again brought us back to the roots of the problem, and again presented us an opportunity of blessing in disguise to remodel and modernise our ration ghats.
As they say “necessity is the mother of invention”, driving force behind any new policy or a scheme is often, if not always, introduced in the interest of public good due to some natural or manmade challenges or disasters or calamities like earthquake, drought, flood, tsunami, pandemic or epidemic diseases and widespread failure etc. The Famine of Bengal in 1943, which still stands as the most devastating famine that occurred in India, killing thirty lakh people in the province of Bengal alone is it’s prime example. It is considered as a remarkable event regarding food and famine problems In India.
The genesis of rationing in India dates back to the 1940s, when the then Government of India in various Food Conferences from 1940 to 1942 had planned to institutionalise rationing system. However the proposal did not nature due to some reasons until the Bengal Famine happened, during which lakh of people died due to hunger. At the same time same time Second World War was underway during which the British Government faced the scarcity of food forcing Government to resort to organised and controlled system of emergency supply of food.
It wasn’t however till 1947 when present system of foodgrain distribution was institutionalised for walfare of poor populations. This rationing system was again revived in the wake of acute food shortage during the early 1960s, before the Green revolution. After emergency, it underwent many changes with the introduction of RPDS and TDPS, and various subsumed schemes for poor in order to make it more inclusive. National Food Security, Act 2013 is it’s latest face, which converted various food security schemes like Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services scheme and the Public Distribution System into legal entitlements for the beneficiaries.
Present pandemic of Covid-19 on one hand presents before us multiple challenges of healthcare and food security, but on the other hand provides us opportunities to make some valuable innovations and interventions that could be potential source of relief for generations to come.
There is an opportunity for us to take advantage of this platform and Distribute all Essential Items during the lockdown period and emergencies like these, through the basic units of public distribution system i.e. Ration Depots/Fair Price Shops. Time is ripe to turn them as Multi Utility Centres, a proposal that has been in the pipeline for many decades
At present circumstances, our prime objective is and must be to make lockdown effective and result oriented without compromising Food Security and Health of people, i.e. decreasing the spread of virus by containment of people and maintaining necessary physical distancing.
This strategy to supply all essential items through these Govt. Sale Depots/Fair Price Shops will cater many objectives arising due to Covid-19 as they are the ladmarks in every Village/Town and its location is known and fixed. Following are some of the important points that make these Sale Depots as potential spot for providing all Essential Items to the consumers in realistic manner.
Through a promising handshake, we can grow out of the present crisis with new dawn and new hopes. Converting Fair Price Shops or Sale Depots of Public Distribution System into Multi Utility Centres may take another decade or more for us to realise this ambitious welfare project, however, distribution activities can be carried out from these nerve centres of foodgrain supply to make an example to follow as ‘Opportunities Often Come in Dirty Clothes.
Author is Food Safety Officer,Food and Drugs Administration, J&K