With the Union Health Ministry applauded Odisha’s success in limiting the spread of the virus to such a level that it now takes more than 30 days to double the number of positive detections compared to 10 days nationally, the natural corollary is that the lockdown has ‘worked’.
While such a general conclusion is obvious, what is missed out is whether the people would have honored the lockdown’s principle of social distancing if food distribution amongst the population with no access to food under these circumstances was not managed efficiently?
Hunger would have driven them to break the isolation without fear of the law.
How Odisha’s Dept of Food Supply Managed to Feed Over 80% of the State
While every state was strategising about how to manage a disaster like the COVID-19 outbreak, Odisha had its plan in place for managing the crisis at least 10 days ahead of the nationally-declared lockdown. At least two weeks before the first lockdown was declared by the Centre (midnight of 24 March), Odisha had started putting its resources together to ensure advanced distribution of Public Distribution System (PDS) food grains for three months, and disbursement of Rs 1000 cash to all eligible families. CM Naveen Patnaik however, ordered inclusion of more left-out eligible beneficiaries under the Food Security Act, while announcing that no one should go hungry in the state.
The Odisha Department of Food Supply immediately notified the release of 5.65 lakh MT food grains for all the 30 districts to cater to 3.30 crore targeted beneficiaries – which constitutes about 80 percent of the total population of the state.
As of 24 April, more than 4 lakh MT has already been distributed within a short period of about 30 days. The 200-odd state owned godown facilities for storing grains are operational with a total staff of 100-plus supervisors, 16,000-plus workers, and almost a thousand vehicles making contactless doorstep deliveries of PDS stocks – all while strictly maintaining social distancing norms.
Odisha Govt Has Shared Food Grains With Other States Too
In a recent press conference, the secretary of the department clarified that the distribution of the goods began as early as 24 March through 12,356 Fair Price Shops in 4004 Gram Panchayats, 5922 private shops, 2034 SHGs networks and 69 Maitree shops. When public movement was curtailed to hard comply the lockdown as a medical emergency imperative, the state department arranged for home deliveries of groceries, and even cooked food for the elderly in most of the 7000-odd gram panchayats.
So far, about 35 lakh families have been given ration. About 40 thousand old and helpless people have been given cooked food through 69 AHAAR Centres in the state.
The government is also making sure of LPG supply and availability of fuel in the market at local distribution centres.
Besides catering to the needs of the people of Odisha, the state government has sent more than 1.5 lakh MT rice to others like Jharkhand, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, in the last four weeks, a far cry from the days when Odisha had to beg the Centre for its quota of rice to feed into its own PDS system.
19 Lakh Families in Odisha Covered By Rs 185 Crore Cash Transfer
The advanced and pro-active planning of the state can be gauged from the fact that the chief minister assured food availability for the whole quarter from April to June under the NFSA (National Food Security Act), covering 66 percent of households who are eligible to receive food grains under this Act.
Under the Food Security Cover, about 19 lakh families have also been distributed Rs 185 crore in cash transfers at the rate of Rs 1000 per ration card, including 36,000 eligible new beneficiaries through active inclusion.
The mid-day meal kitchens of the state are also engaged in supplying dry ration and cooked food (where required) to children in their houses.
Besides, around twenty-four thousand ‘guest workers’ from other states have been given accommodation and food by the government in 336 camps.
Odisha has stood out as an example of how it has ensured food security for one and all, so as to mitigate the hardships that the poor, the vulnerable and the migrants would have faced because of the prolonged lockdown. In fact, the success of the lockdown can be significantly attributed to this ability of the state government to mitigate rural food distress.
(Dr Amar Patnaik is Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha from Odisha, a former CAG official with a Master in Public Management from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore and the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and an academic with a PhD in management. He tweets @Amar4Odisha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)