Ground Reports

The desperate Hunt for a Ration Card in Tribal Telangana

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced series of lockdowns that have blocked various sectors, we have heard the traumatized stories of people who tussled hard to have one meal a day. Have all the people sheltered in remote areas across mountains, forests, and barren lands – received the ration? Getting down to the nitty-gritty of the issue, there are certain sections of people that have not received ration from the government during the lockdown. Are they receiving the ration now?

By Samanth Lanka, 29 Sep 2021

The Lockdown That Was!

Needless to mention, the lockdown situation was so bad that the people had limited access to essential goods. The state and central governments have provided free rations and other essential supplies to the people during the lockdown. The fact is that, there are still certain sections of people who do not have the necessary documentation to receive the ration.

Should they be avoided for not having documentation? Have they been provided with new ration cards during the recent distribution in the state?

Let us recall the lockdown situation in the Mulugu assembly constituency in Telangana. Since the pandemic has hit hard on normal life, there is nowhere to go and earn livelihood for the people across the country. In Mulugu, which is primarily made up of ST communities, a few tribal communities still live in forest areas with no road connectivity and other infrastructure facilities. Consisting of more than 250 hamlets in the constituency, Mulugu Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) member Danasari Anasuya, popularly known as Seetakka has rescued tribal people from hunger-deaths in gruelling times during the lockdown.

An Unstoppable traveller

It was during 2020, Indian National Congress (INC) MLA Seetakka and the team visited hamlets located in valleys, across rivulets, and hills in her constituency. Seetakka, 50, has trekked, walked, drove on tractors and bullock carts carrying loads on her shoulder and headed to find her way to tribals.

The onerous task was to distribute rice, vegetables, sanitizers, masks, basic medicines, groceries and other essential goods in zero transport facility areas. Sometimes, she cooked food herself and carried it deep inside the forest to feed the people.

Although the government has announced a mere Rs 1500 and 12kgs of rice to ration card holders, many of these tribal people have failed to receive the benefits. Since these people live in agency areas, they have no proper knowledge of the documentation required to be on the beneficiaries list. Seetakka has raised her voice that the mere Rs 1500 should be increased to Rs 5,000 for sustenance.

A Naxalite Turned Politician, Aspiring PhD Scholar

Despite waiting for the government’s assistance, Seetakka has distributed the ration for more than 100 days with the help of donations. A Naxalite turned politician, Seetakka is a postgraduate from Kakatiya University and also a lawyer and aspiring PhD scholar from Osmania University.

Her political career was a rollercoaster ride, unlike many other politicians. Suppressed by the Zamindars, capitalists and landlords, Seetakka has decided to join Naxals at an early age. She had created her own mark for good deeds and was promoted as Dalam commander in no time.

Having worked as a Naxalite for about 10 years, she is a tough lady of determination. During the times when the Chief Minister appeared to be ensconced in a farmhouse, the iron lady has continuously delivered services by pouring in some confidence to Adivasi.

Adivasi population is predominant in Mulugu, Bhadradri Kothagudem, and Adilabad districts of Telangana. There are thousands of tribal people living in remote areas in the Mulugu constituency. Seetakka, a two-time elected MLA, has struggled a lot in providing basic ration to her people living in gudem (a place where a group of tribals live in the forest).

Speaking to Mojo Story, Seetakka said that “people living in gudem have no proper documentation to claim ration cards.” During a recent distribution of new ration cards in the state, adivasis were immensely neglected. Around 10,000 applications have been registered for new ration cards (from the Mulugu constituency) and only about 2,000 of them have received the cards.

‘What about the remaining 8,000 applications and their families?’ she questioned.

“One thing that everyone has neglected in highlighting is the improper technicalities involved in applying for new ration cards. Only a short period of time has been allocated to apply on the website. Is it some kind of a seasonal scheme?”’ She ridiculed the government’s approach.

How can you expect someone living in remote areas to be aware of deadlines for registration? And why are deadlines needed to apply for ration cards?

For The People, Of the People, By the People

“The ration card distribution should be a continuous process, that is how every eligible person receives government benefits.”

‘There might be a newlywed girl, a deceased father, a newborn child, or partitioned brothers who certainly need new ration cards to lead their lives. ‘In the modern era of digitalization, it is pathetic to see people still waiting for government benefits because of administrative delay or process.’ According to the National Food Security act 2013, the main objective is to provide ‘subsidized food grains for two- thirds of the country’s population.’

Seetakka was the first legislator in the assembly to demand the government to provide free face masks to the public. Surprisingly, Chief Minister K Chandrshekar Rao, then reverted her saying that his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party MLAs do not have face masks and none will die for not wearing. Now, Rao appears in a mask in every public gathering.

“Being in the highest authority of the state, it is shameful to pass such erroneous statements. I am an adivasi and born in an agency area. That might be the reason KCR humiliated me in the assembly,” she said.

Are adivasis being neglected in the state?

Seetakka and her team have distributed rations and essential goods to people living in around 700 hamlets. She has not only restricted her work to the Mulugu constituency, but also helped people living in the neighbouring Khammam and Narsampet constituencies.

She has also extended her work to the East and West Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh. “I served people as a human being, humanity has no territorial boundaries,” she added.

Besides providing the ration and essential goods, Seetakka has distributed face masks to tribals. “Not in a position to afford, many of them in gudem are reusing only one mask. The ineffective masks might lead to other infections,” she said in a trembled voice.

“It is absolute that the state government is not prepared if, unfortunately, the third wave of COVID-19 jumps in,” she emphasized.

The key findings are that people living in remote areas have failed to receive ration benefits during the lockdown because of improper documentation for ration cards. Currently, nearly 8,000 applications have failed to receive ration cards after a few months of lockdown and distribution of new ration cards. Unfortunately, there are several who have not applied yet as the registration was closed. Telangana is said to be one of the richest states in India, is it considered as a failure of the state government? Or the central government?

Future Objectives in Dilemma

As the vaccination program is on a plunge, locals opine that the government should show a special interest in vaccinating these remote areas. Recently, Ramappa in Mulugu constituency has been recognized as a heritage site by UNESCO, besides there are Laknavaram, Bogatha waterfalls, SS Tadvai and Eturnagaram wildlife sanctuary in this region which could be a potential tourism attraction in the near future.

Furthermore, Medaram Sammakka Saarakka jatara, which is also located in this region is ahead in February 2022. Some lakhs of people from all over the country come to worship the goddesses during the festival days. Vaccinating people of this region would potentially stop them from Coronavirus infection.