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“75% Of Households Ate Less During The Pandemic”

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

This blog delves into the importance of the Public Distribution System (PDS) during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s functioning.

What Is The Public Distribution System?

The PDS system in India, with its focus on the distribution of foodgrains, took shape in the 1960s due to a critical shortage of food. In June 1997, the Government of India launched the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), which was linked to poverty estimates. Under the PDS, states were required to formulate and implement foolproof arrangements for the identification of eligible beneficiaries for the delivery of foodgrains, and grain distribution in a transparent and accountable manner at the level of the Fair Price Shop (FPS).

Representational Image.

The National Food Security Act (NFSA) enacted in the year 2013, delinked the coverage under TPDS from erstwhile poverty estimates. Eligible households/beneficiaries under NFSA comprise the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households and persons belonging to Priority Households (PHH) categories. As per NFSA norms, among Priority households, each member is entitled to 5 kgs of grain per month at Rs. 2/kg for wheat and Rs. 3/kg for rice. Antyodaya households get 35 kgs/month at the same price, irrespective of family size.

Coverage under NFSA was linked to the population estimates and inter alia entitles up to 75 percent of the rural population and up to 50 percent of the urban population for receiving subsidized foodgrains under the TPDS. It thus covered nearly two-thirds of the country’s population.

How does The PDS System In India Work?

There are two systems of procurement of foodgrains: a Centralised Procurement System (CPS) and a Decentralised Procurement System (DCP). Under the CPS, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is responsible for the procurement, storage, transportation, and bulk allocations of foodgrains to state governments. Under the DCP, state governments undertake the direct purchase of foodgrains and are also responsible for the storage and distribution under NFSA and other welfare schemes.

Foodgrains are procured from farmers by FCI or a state government, depending on the procurement system in place, at government notified prices known as the Minimum Support Price (MSP). The total cost of procurement is then MSP plus other incidental costs such as transportation. The foodgrains are then sold by FPS at a subsidized price, which is called the Central Issue Prices (CIPs). The difference between the total cost of procurement and CIP is reimbursed by the GoI to FCI (in the case of CPS) and states (in the case of DCP) as food subsidy.

The PDS system faces several challenges and bottleneck issues. Firstly, over the past few years, there has been an increasing gap in GoI’s allocation for food subsidies and reimbursements claimed by the FCI.

Source: Food subsidy released and due for FCI. Available online at: Last accessed on 26 January 202

Consequently, since 2013-14, FCI’s debt has increased almost four times. The outstanding debt at the start of the FY 2020-21 stood at more than 3 lakh crores as of 31 December 2020.

Secondly, there are significant exclusion errors with eligible beneficiaries not being able to access PDS. The current calculations of eligible beneficiaries are based on the 2011 Census data. Since 67 percent of the population is to be covered under NFSA, according to the 2011 Census, the number of beneficiaries to be covered comes up to 81.4 crores. However, this calculation does not take into account the population growth over the last decade. If we take the 2020 projected population as per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, an additional 10 crore beneficiaries should be covered under the NFSA.

Importance In The Pandemic

The global COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed India’s health infrastructure and disrupted the economy. Additionally, recent data on malnutrition paints a worrying picture. India has one of the highest proportions of undernourished children in the world, in terms of both stunting and wasting. Moreover, the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 and 2019-20 rounds show that there is either stagnation or worsening of several malnutrition indicators in several states. (The NFHS-5 data pertain to the situation before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Studies have shown that households continued consuming less food several months after the nationwide lockdown in 2020, than before it. A survey by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University found that over 75 percent of the households were eating less during the lockdown than before it. There was a slight recovery post-lockdown, but 60 percent of the households still reported eating less than before the lockdown. Moreover, disadvantaged households have been disproportionately affected. For example, almost half of the informal workers in a survey said that they were eating less than before.

In this context, PDS can be all the more important to help vulnerable families tide over the pandemic-induced food insecurity.

As the pandemic spread through the country, the GoI announced the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, providing 5 kgs of rice or wheat and 1 kg of pulses to eligible people free-of-cost, in addition to the regular entitlement of quota of foodgrains. The scheme was initially meant to be implemented from April 2020 to June 2020 but was later extended till November 2020. In April 2021, as the second wave of infections spread, the GoI again announced 5 kgs of free foodgrains per person per month for May and June. This was further extended till November 2021.

But, as systemic issues such as the significant exclusion errors of eligible beneficiaries persist, vulnerable families are likely to struggle to cope with the economic effects of the pandemic.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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