The Delhi-based non-profit organization Parivartan has been making steady progress in bringing about greater transparency in the Public Distribution System (PDS) ration records in Delhi’s Food and Civil Supplies Department.

To summarise the organisation’s successful interventions, Triveni, a very poor resident of East Delhi, inspired over 150 residents to file Right to Information applications. Despite holding the Antyodaya card, she did not know that she could buy ration at highly subsidized rates. Her ration shop was selling at prices almost equal to those at the market and thus she stopped buying from the shop. Further, Parivartan workers were beaten up when they went for inspection of records. Once people in various parts of Delhi were being pressurized to withdraw their applications by policemen, ration dealers, and Food Department officials, Parivartan workers approached Delhi Chief Minister (CM) Sheila Dixit with a request for her to intervene. To everyone’s (pleasant) surprise the Chief Secretary (CS) was immediately transferred and the new CS showed a very positive response. With the new CS’ support, Parivartan received the PDS records for four areas in Delhi: Gautampuri, Bhalswa, Kalyanpuri and Welcome Colony.

According to a survey done by Parivartan in a small area in Welcome Colony in East Delhi, almost 90% of the food meant to be distributed to poor people under the PDS is being siphoned off. However, this has changed considerably since Parivartan, with the help of the community, initiated the campaign to obtain the records of ration dealers of this area and made them public. 82 households that Parivartan spoke to on 13th March maintained that everyone in this area now gets their full entitlements at the right prices. This unprecedented development in this area is a direct outcome of the records becoming public.

To review the organisation’s strategy, Parivartan had obtained the sales registers and stock registers of some ration dealers in Welcome area in east Delhi in October 2003 using Right to Information. These records related to distribution of wheat, rice and kerosene during June 2003. The information was disseminated widely in this area during the month of December 2003. While the ration dealers had been maintaining that they were not receiving stocks from the government, the residents were shocked to see that ration had been siphoned off in their names.

Parivartan workers then went house to house to verify the entries in the sales registers. This exercise revealed that out of a total of 182 families that Parivartan spoke to, 142 families did not receive a single grain of wheat during the month of June. 167 families did not receive a single grain of rice. Out of a total of 4650 kg of wheat supposed to have been distributed to the people, only 595 Kgs had actually been received by the people. The rest 87% found its way to the black market. Out of a total of 1820 Kg of rice supposed to have been distributed as per daily sales registers, only 110 Kg was received by the people. The remaining 94% was siphoned off.

By the time Parivartan conducted another survey on 13 March, this trend had changed for the better. People now maintained that one of the dealers has now been giving correct quantities of rations at right prices for the last two months and that another one gave correct rations during the previous month.

In fact, during the process, a group of ration dealers again attacked Parivartan workers and set all records including the survey findings on fire. Instead of reacting themselves, Parivartan workers transferred the matter to the citizen’s court – a group of socially active members of the community were asked to decide the course of action to be followed with this group of ration dealers. The community decided to give the dealers three months to show improvements.

Only one Kerosene oil dealer, whose records were also obtained, and who had publicly apologized for his past mistakes and had promised to improve has not changed his supply trends. Finally, the community decided that the records of this dealer along with the findings of the survey should be presented to the police with a request to lodge an FIR against him for diversion of essential commodities.

Most recently, Parivartan has been working with the residents of Ravidas Camp – a jhuggi basti (slum cluster) – most of who have a BPL (below poverty line)/Antodaya card. However, nobody there gets the ration which is their due. Parivartan workers have created awareness about the exploitation by the ration dealers and their own efforts to make the records transparent to enable fair flow of ration. This recent effort has already motivated about 20 residents of the basti to file Right to Information applications. And thus a new cycle has begun.

"The people would discuss the conduct of various shopkeepers in these meetings and decide whose records to procure, whom to condone and who to proceed against. This is real empowerment of the people."
According to Arvind Kejriwal of Parivartan, “the process of obtaining records of ration dealers and dissemination of information contained therein has been quite interesting. A series of public meetings took place during January and February, some of which were also attended by the ration dealers association. The people would discuss the conduct of various shopkeepers in these meetings and decide whose records to procure, whom to condone and who to proceed against. This is real empowerment of the people. The people can themselves obtain records and set the dealers straight.”

Indeed, the movement that Parivartan has initiated in one corner of Delhi is a practice good enough to be replicated all over India in general. The organization has remarkably brought home the simple yet oft-hidden fact – that the people not only have the right to know but also to get what is rightfully theirs.