For her, Rs 600 cash subsidy money tastes sweeter than honey

Having received cash subsidy under Annashree plan, women plan to use the money only when it is required; many want to save it for daughter’s wedding

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | December 26, 2012


Nirmala
Nirmala

It’s just over a week since the Delhi government’s ambitious food security scheme ‘Dilli Annashree Yojana’ was launched, and it’s the winter of content for most women in 13,289 families that got the first installment of cash subsidy deposited in their bank accounts on December 15.

Identified through a survey, each beneficiary family was provided subsidy of Rs 4,800 as entitlement for eight months, with retrospective effect from April 1.

On a balmy winter afternoon, as we reach a community centre run by the NGO Manch in Raghubir Nagar, a resettlement colony in west Delhi, smiling faces of women welcome us. Some of them are housewives while many sell steel utensils and old clothes with their husbands. But not many have much reason to smile every other day, given the struggle to make ends meet.

So the sudden delight and the sense of empowerment do strike as odd. It doesn’t take long to figure out, though: their bank accounts have been opened, Rs 4,800 transferred into these accounts as part of Dilli Annashree Yojana, the Delhi government’s food security scheme, and they can now decide how to use the money.

They have even received specially-designed passbooks of State Bank of India, which some of the women show us enthusiastically.

Nirmala, 35, a housewife, looks after her three children. She was among the 12 women felicitated by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit during the launch of the scheme on December 15. Her husband sells old clothes and manages to earn around Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 per month. Though she has a ration card, Nirmala used it merely as an identity proof. “There is no stamp on it from the government,” she says, “so that means we cannot buy ration from the PDS with it.”

On average, Nirmala buys 30 kg wheat at Rs 16 per kg from the Delhi government’s ‘Bhagidari atta’ scheme, and 3 kg rice at Rs 15 per kg and 3 kg sugar at Rs 40 per kg from the open market. The total costs, she says, come to more than Rs 600 per month. A litre of milk every day and pulses and vegetable are an additional burden but she rarely, if ever, spends on fruits.

“Vegetables and pulses are hard to miss but we cannot think of fruits. These are really costly,” Nirmala says.

With 13,289 families having received their first installment of the cash subsidy till date — as part of the scheme, Rs 600 is transferred to bank accounts of the seniormost woman member of the poorest of poor families in Delhi — most women in the colony say this is the first time they are operating a bank account. Their husbands either sell old clothes or are rickshaw-pullers and ragpickers.

The money has been deposited into the bank accounts of women to allow them to buy food items of their choice from the open market.
 
Money in bank, looking forward to future
But not every family is thinking of using the money to buy daily essentials. For Nirmala, Rs 600 every month in her account will be savings for her daughter’s wedding. “This is the only help we got from the government in last so many years. I will use the money only if it is required, otherwise I will keep saving it for my daughter,” she says.

Having earlier shared a bank account with her husband, with only the latter operating it, Nirmala says, “The money has been given in my name, so I have the right to decide how to use it.”

For Leela Devi, 60, who lives in a six-member family, the amount has ensured her regular medicines. She has problems with her knees and has to spend between Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 on medicines each month. While she admits Rs 600 is a small amount, “Something is better than nothing. We do not earn much and sometimes I am not able to buy medicines. We could never feed our children with milk and eggs.”

When the Sheila Dikshit government launched the cash transfer for food security scheme, opposition BJP called it an election stunt. Dikshit’s statement, that Rs 600 per month was more than sufficient for a family of five to sustain itself, was also highly criticized.

So is Rs 600 a month enough for these women to feed their families? Not really, they say. But they are still happy and not complaining at all.

“For them (critics) it might be just Rs 600 but it means a lot for us. They would not understand the importance of this amount. We are happy because we received no assistance from the government all these years,” says Lakshmi, 26, a mother of four.

Her husband is a daily wage earner and gets home around Rs 6,000 a month. The family lives in a one-room rented house. “My husband sometimes does not get any work and there are days when we have no money to buy food; we ask neighbours for help. But I am sure that won’t happen now,” Lakshmi says.

A large part of her husband’s wage goes into buying the basics: wheat, rice, pulses, vegetables and sugar. The family eats egg once a month. Fruits are bought only on special occasions, she says, adding that with the amount of Rs 600 she can buy things that can bring a smile on her children’s faces.

While the political parties might slate this scheme, chief minister Dikshit has surely won hearts of many in this Raghubir Nagar colony.

For Subhi, 40, who sells utensils and has five children to look after, the amount guarantees that her children will never sleep without food. “There are days when we roam for thw whole day and do not earn a penny. But money in my bank account will help me feed the children even on those bad days,” she says.

Subhi finds the cash transfer much better than getting ration though PDS. “I have seen families going to the ration shop again and again, and even harassed at times. We will not have to face that,” she says.

But she has one more reason to feel happy: “Now I can help my husband as well. If he does not have money, I can give it to him! The amount may be small but we are happy that they (government) at least thought about us.”

Subhi says they do not want their children to face the same hardship they go through. “We want them to study and we request the government to ensure they have jobs when they grow up,” she says.

But these women are facing an odd situation now, as families not shortlisted by the government as beneficiaries are now asking the “lucky ones” how they got the money. “My landlady is threatening me. She says she will ensure that my name is struck off the list,” says Lakshmi. “She is irate that we have got the money on her address but her name is not in the beneficiary list.”

Like Lakshi’s landlady, women who are not beneficiaries want to know the success mantra from the likes of her and Nirmala. “I tell them that the government has chosen me for the scheme. I did not ask them for help,” Nirmala reasons.

The colony has a population of 1 lakh and around 1,000 families identified as socially and economically vulnerable will be benefited through Annashree. In the first phase, 267 women have got the cash transfer.
 
What Annashree is all about
As part of the scheme, Rs 600 will be transferred directly into bank accounts of the seniormost woman member of the poorest of poor families in the national capital. The government has tied up with leading banks to implement the scheme.

Around 4 lakh households are at present getting subsidised food items under the below poverty line (BPL) and Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) schemes.

Those not covered by these schemes will get direct cash subsidies under the new programme. The Delhi government hopes to cover 2 lakh families by the end of March 2013.

No matter how the scheme is seen in the political arena, it has brought relief to the women who were not getting entitled to any benefit from the government till date. These women belong to poor families but did not have BPL cards.

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