CELEBRATING WOMEN’S INITIATIVES

An Information Fair on Rationing Issues

Swayam Shikshan Prayog

July 1999

THE RATIONING SYSTEM.

India has a Public Distribution System through which essential commodities such as foodgrain, sugar and fuel are sold at subsidized rates through fairprice shops. Everyone is entitled to a fixed amount of foodgrain and fuel that they can buy from ration shops at rates fixed by the Government. But the ration shops are sometimes closed and stocks are hoarded and sold at high prices in the black market. Often, ration cards (proof that someone is a resident and is entitled to rations from the local shop) are hard to get, and people have to pay bribes to get ration cards made.

COLLECTIVE ACTION BY WOMEN’S GROUPS.

Women’s collectives in Latur and Osmanabad have begun a movement in which they are working with the administration to monitor ration shops and ensure that the Public Distribution System works for people, especially the poorest. Mahiti Melavas are information fairs. Two recent information fairs on rationing provided a glimpse of the range of actors and activities that women’s collectives and their allies have to take on to solve community problems.

HUNDREDS OF WOMEN CAME TOGETHER.

More than 500 women made their way to each of the two information fairs in Latur and Osmanabad to find out about rationing and what they could do to ensure that people get what they are entitled to at prices stipulated by the government.

GETTING THE FACTS STRAIGHT.
Women got information on the rules that govern the ration shops

Sealed samples
The shop is supposed to display sealed samples of all the foodgrains from the godown so that buyers can compare samples to stocks they buy and check to see if they are adulterated.

List of the ration cardholders.
The shop has to maintain a list of all the ration cardholders who are entitled to use the shop.

Stock register
Each ration shop has to maintain an up-to-date stock register on quotas of rations they get from government godowns and how much is sold.

Complaints Books
Each shop has to keep a complaints book in which people can register complaints

Display Board
Each shop must have a board displaying the total number of cardholders, prices of all the goods sold is supposed and the names of all the members of the Ration Vigilance Committees.

Timings
Shop owners have to specify the timings and the days on which they will keep the shop open.

When stocks arrive
When stocks arrive, the talati (the village official), the shop owner and sarpanch are all supposed to check the stocks have arrived and sign the register.

OFFICIALS GOT THE REAL PICTURE

Women told the gathering about difficulties they face in getting rations.

Sayadbi, a shop owner from Naldurg explained difficulties faced by shopowners

While shop owners are supposed to have regular meetings with officials, these meetings rarely take place. So the shop owners don’t have an opportunity to convey problems such as rations being in short supply, delays in getting stocks, low quality rations and transport costs.

Ration Dakshata Samiti

Each village has its own Ration Dakshata Samiti, or Ration Vigilance Committee which must monitor the functioning of the shops. The Committee can inspect shops at anytime and check the stocks, the complaints book. This Committee is also supposed to meet regularly. But, until women’s collectives got involved, few people knew that such a committee existed. Those in the committee rarely met and were not really aware of how the Ration Dakshata Samiti could effectively monitor ration shops.

 

EFFORTS TO IMPROVE ACCESS

LOCATING A ROLE FOR WOMEN’S GROUPS

In 1998, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, an NGO working with women’s collectives in 2 districts, began a systematic exploration of food security and rationing. The key questions for SSP were:

The first step was to meet rationing officers and shopkeepers to assess the functioning shops. The next step was to get officials to orient women on the rationing system. Then together with officials the women’s collectives, The Ration Kriti Samiti and SSP worked out how women could be involved in monitoring ration shops.

Setting A Precedent

In September 1998, impressed by the track record of women’s collectives, the District Collector of Latur set a precedent by agreeing to put members of women’s collectives on the ration vigilance committees. After Women complained to him that they needed proof of their status as committee members, he has also provided identity cards to these members. After this, the Osmanabad Collector also agreed to allow women’s collectives to nominate members on the Ration Vigilance Committee.


THE RATION KRITI SAMITI

The Ration Kriti Samiti is a network that has been working on rationing issues for the last 10 years in the slums of Bombay. During the last year a visit arranged by SSP to Osmanabad sparked off a series of exchanges between rural and urban groups. The main role of Ration Kriti Samiti is to get information from state officials, lobby for policy changes and support women’s collectives to monitor the rationing system. 10 activists who attended the melavas shared stories and songs and experiences confronting shop owners and officials in their settlements.

INFORMATION, THE PRIMARY WEAPON
Laxmikant from SSP explained that information is the most important weapon that we have. But unlike other weapons, this is one will not wear away with use. The more you use information, the more effective it becomes and the greater its impact. All the experiences recounted at the information fair prove this to be true.

Using information to get BPL householders on the ration lists
A Mahila Mandal leader and a member of the Ration Dakshata Samiti of Vadval village in Latur explained that after she attended a workshop with members of Ration Dakshata Samitis and the block level officials and the District Collectors. After that, she visited the block office to find out more and to explain some of the problems faced in her village. The Tehsildar helped her by sending a letter to the Talati asking that she, as a committee member, be kept informed on what action was being taken. The Talati was also requested to deal with any complaints and problems. Following complaints from the village committee that shop owners were trying to keep some households below the poverty line out of the new lists of ration cardholders, officials visited the ration shop to inspect the lists and remedied the situation.

Getting Receipts.
Shobha from Tugaon village in Latur attended a meeting at the district headquarters where activists from the Ration Kriti Samiti explained the rules governing ration shops in Maharashtra. One of the rules is that shop owners have to give receipts to customers. This was not happening at her local shop. When she asked for a receipt, the shopkeeper complained to her husband saying that it was wrong for women to behave like this. She shouldn’t have confronted him in public. When she got back from a ration melava in Latur, she realized that she would get better results if she was supported by more women. She mobilised ten women to support her in asking the shopowner to give receipts. From then on the whole village started asking for receipts. The shop owner had no choice but to start giving every one receipts.

Q & A WITH OFFICIALS

Q: What if a poor person’s name is not on the official Below the Poverty Line list?

A: Since the original and official BPL list is at the Taluka office, you should make an application to the Block offices to have your name included in the BPL list.

Q: How much should it cost for a person below the poverty line to get a ration card?

A: It costs Rs.6.00

( Women were surprised to hear this. They had payed upto Rs. 130.00 for their cards)

Q: What if the shop owner refuses to give receipts?

A: Register a complaint in the Complaints Book in the shop and inform the Tehsildar’s office.

The presence of block officials and the collector gave women’s collectives an opportunity to present a list of demands to them. Here are the agreements made by the Collector of Osmanabad

 

AGREEMENTS MADE AT THE MELAVA

DEMANDS MADE BY WOMEN’S COLLECTIVES

AGREEMENTS AND COMMENTS FROM THE COLLECTOR

  1. Take active members of the Mahila Mandals into the Ration Dakshata Samiti
ü Accepted

  • Give Identity cards to members
  • ü Accepted

  • Information on quotas ration quotas alloted should be given in writing to each members of Ration Dakshata Samiti
  • Not accepted

    The information can be read at the following Ration Dakshata Samiti village meeting

  • Naib Tehsildar and Tehsildar should meet all the RDSs representatives every 2 months
  • ü Accepted

    But meetings to be every 3 months

  • If complaints are filed by Ration Dakshata Samiti , tehsildars office has to respond in writing within one month
  • ü Accepted

    He will take action within 15 days

  • Agenda of Taluka level meeting should include :
    • Village level problems and solutions
    • Next meeting venue and date
    • Feedback
    • Role of each member and actor
    • Other agendas

    ü Accepted

    A similar agenda should be taken up for discussion at village level meetings.

    1. Complaints book at gram panchayat office also.

    Accepted

  • Tehsildars office is responsible for ensuring that the minutes of the meeting to be circulated to members within fifteen days after the meeting
  • ü Accepted

  • When officials inspect shops – they should be accompanied by a member of Ration Dakshata Samiti
  • ü Accepted

  • When officials inspect shops - they should accompanied by a member of Ration Dakshata Samiti
  • Not accepted

    But the official should keep the Ration Dakshata Samiti informed

  • The Tehsildar should ensure the village official and the Ration Dakshata Samiti to conduct meetings every month
  • Not accepted.

    The tehsildar can only urge village officials and Ration Dakshata Samiti members to do this.

  • Copy of village meetings minutes should be recorded by the talati
  • ü Accepted

     

    Give information and talk about what action women can take in different forums:

    Mahila mandals can visit offices and get the following:

    They can visit shops and check the following:

    THE MAHITI MELAVA: FROM SIMPLE TO SOPHISTICATED

    Mahiti literally means information and the main purpose of the mahiti melava has been to disseminate information. When SSP began organizing these melavas in 1993, the information moved only in one direction - from NGOs and Resource Persons to women’s collectives. As SSP and women’s collectives became more experienced in hosting and managing these huge information fairs, many more actors have begun to participate: and information seems to be moving in many directions. Women’s collectives are not just receiving information they are also educating others. In short, everyone seems to be taking the opportunity to find out what’s going on.

    It is clear that the mahiti melava or information fair, as a learning tool has come a long way. The Ration Melavas in Osmanabad and Latur represent refined versions of this tool. The "new, improved version" is not just about information dissemination. Instead, the new improved version represents a sophisticated learning tool that highlights the many actors and the multiple activities involved along with the range of strategies employed to create lasting changeJ

    Swayam Shikshan Prayog 58, CVOD Jain High School, 84 Samuel Street, Bombay 400 009, India

    Tel: 91-22-3700853, 3780730 Fax: 91-22-3700853 E-mail: [email protected]



    About Us
    | SSP's Toolkit |Disaster Management |Credit |Women & Construction |Women & Governance |What's New |How YOU can contribute| Publications