Gujarat: How Older Women Face Challenges In Getting Monthly Ration

Old women have to make several trips each month to procure ration at Fair Price Shops as their fingerprints don’t get registered in the computerised machines. Authorities now say they are looking into the problem.

Sonal Kellogg
25 Jul 2023 Updated On Sep 08, 2023 13:42 IST
Ration Issues For Gujarat Women

Photo credit: Sonal Kellogg

The Public Distribution System (PDS) is plagued by technical glitches as scores of women report difficulties in getting their monthly ration in Gujarat.

Maniben Ramjibhai Sondarwa, 62 years, a resident of Kathiwadi Chali in Vasna area has to visit her Public Distribution System (PDS) shop repeatedly as her thumb print does not get registered by the computer-linked finger scanning machine at the government Fair Price Shop (FPS). This happens each month. Sometimes she is unable to get her thumb print despite several trials and has to ask her daughter-in-law to go to collect the ration, which means the younger woman has to forgo that day’s wage as she is a daily wage earner.

Meenaben Ramjibhai Parmar, 52 years, a resident of Narayanbhai Ni Chali in Pravin Nagar and her mother Konkuben Ramjibhai Parmar, 80 years both have the same problem. Their finger prints don’t get registered on the computerised machine. For a couple months they were able to get ration through the OTP generated on their registered mobile which is the other way to get ration but FPS shopkeeper has told her she can’t use the OTP option indefinitely as the government wants to use biometrics to distribution food in the state.

Kanchanben Bhagwandas Mahaveer, 45 years, a resident of Someshwar Nagar had to visit the PDS shop for the third time in June 2023 to get her ration as her thumb impression did not get registered twice earlier when she came to get her ration for June. This has been happening on a regular basis she said, not just with her but with several other women who were older than 40 years. 


Older Women Face Monthly Ration Challenges Gujarat

Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aggressively promoting  Digital India and Gujarat is empowering the state with its Digital Gujarat initiative, women are struggling to procure food rations from Fair Price Shops (FPS) due to technical glitches. These are causing major problems for ration card holders who are unable to get their monthly ration or have to make repeated trips to the FPS to get their monthly rations under the government’s Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), said to be the largest such food distribution system in the world.

Almost all those who avail of the provisions of the government’s TPDS are either from Below the Poverty Line (BPL) families or from low income families. These are people who really need government’s subsidised food grains but after the TPDS process has been digitalised, it has not been as smooth as the government would like us to believe. 


The digitalisation of food distribution was implemented to eliminate large scale corruption in distribution and to ensure that food reaches those who need it the most, explained Principal Secretary Ramesh Chand Meena of Food and Civil Supplies Department of Gujarat. He said, “The whole PDS software system in Gujarat is computerised to make the whole process transparent.” 

However, most of those who are availing of the TPDS facilities are not computer literate and are not aware of how the system works. The government has simplified the process and a ration card holder needs to just give a thumb impression on the computerised finger scanning machine to obtain his or her monthly ration for the family. 

But majority of the time, it is the older women in the family who go to get the monthly ration as they can take the time to line up at the FPS shop as the men and younger women in the family go for their jobs. However, for some of these women, their thumbprints don’t get registered so they either have to make multiple trips to the FPS or have to forgo that month’s ration if they are unable to get their fingerprint registered. They can also get another family member to get the ration but that would mean forgoing that day’s work or daily wage for that person. 


There is an alternative which Additional Food Controller in Ahmedabad Jasvant Jegoda pointed out. He said, “Those whose fingerprints don’t get registered can avail of their ration by opting for a One-Time-Password (OTP) on their registered mobile phones. But as per the central government we must use biometrics to distribute monthly rations. Only if a person is facing difficulties can the OTP method be used and even then we will check to see if it is a genuine case.”

Roshni Sadhu, working for an NGO in Sehra block of Panchmahal district, speaking about the various experiences of those seeking ration from government FPS said, in villages it is the old women who go to procure ration. “Young people and men have normally migrated for work in cities in tribal districts so if the older women in the villages are having the problem of their thumbprints not getting registered, they can’t even avail of the government alternative facility of getting food grains through OTP since it is the men whose mobile numbers are registered and they have it their possession. Also, these women are not so tech savvy either. So they struggle or make repeated trips to the FPS.”

Explaining the process, Mr Jegoda said, “We do have the alternative of using the OTP on registered mobiles but we want to ensure that there is no misuse so wherever OTP is used to procure food grains in large numbers, we do check to see whether it is properly being used. The central government’s directive is to use biometrics for food distribution to rule out malpractices but we also want to ensure that everyone gets their monthly rations as per their entitlement.” 


Speaking about the various glitches which persist in the PDS in Gujarat, the convener for Right to Food Campaign in Gujarat Pankti Jog said, as per a Government Resolution (GR) issued on February 12, 2014, those who are not able to get their fingerprints can get ration through other identity cards like Voters Card, etc. But this is not highlighted so people don’t know about this provision. Also, shopkeepers of FPS are discouraged to use any other method except the use of biometrics so this is also causing problems”.

Endless technical glitches 

Another issue which is hampering FPS is that the site often crashes or stops working with endless buffering on the website almost daily during 10.30 am to 11.30 am, which a government official in the zonal office in Mahalaxmi area of Ahmedabad said, was a common issue. This problem of endless buffering on the website was also seen at the FPS and the zonal office when this correspondent visited both places.  


Deputy secretary, PDS in Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, Nayanaben Patel responded to the query of what the state government is doing to ensure that all ration card holders get their monthly rations. She said, “The director of PDS in Gujarat has been asked to send a report on this issue of thumbprints not getting registered in the machine. Once we have the report, we will take whatever action is needed.” 

Meanwhile, Cabinet Minister incharge of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department Kunwarjibhai Bavaliya accepted that the department did discourage use of OTP on mobile phones as a way to avail food grains from FPS to rule out corruption but he said that OTP facility was available to those who genuinely had a reason to use this method instead of biometrics to get their monthly ration. He said, “Shopkeepers could be denying customers just so that they can then indulge in corrupt practices of selling off the grains in the open market but otherwise, people can avail of OTP as an alternative if their thumbprints are not getting registered in FPS.”

However, we found that all those we spoke to, were not able to procure grains through OTPs and they had to repeatedly return to the FPS shops and hope their thumbprints would get registered or they had to forgo their rations for that month. 


Jamniben, from Sakhi Mahila Sangathan in Mahua Taluka of Bhavnagar district, when asked about problems faced in availing of PDS food grains had the following to say, “Many times the computer machine doesn’t work and often women are facing the problem of their thumbprints not getting registered. This is a recurring problem but nothing is being done to solve this issue. We have complained repeatedly.” 

The state government might be keen to distribute rations to all who are entitled to it, but we found that many such technical issues remained unsolved for days and were not being resolved swiftly. The state government was aware of the problem but this correspondent found that shopkeepers were reluctant to go for the OTP alternative method as they feared increased scrutiny. 

One another scheme which has been flagged by the government is One Nation, One Card, where anyone who had a ration card can avail of their monthly ration from any place, regardless of where the cardholder is originally from. This scheme has been publicised a lot, but again it is not being implemented properly on the ground. Ms Jog said, “I have not come across a single case where a ration card holder who is say from somewhere like Dahod or Panchmahals districts and who is working in Ahmedabad has been able to get ration here when his ration card is either from Dahod or Panchmahal districts.”

When asked, a FPS shopkeeper said that the government gives him only enough food grains and other food items for the number of ration card holders registered in his shop so how can he give ration to people from other districts or states. He said, he has enough ration only for those who are registered in his shop. 

So problems remain in the smooth functioning of the TPDS in Gujarat. It remains to be seen what the state government will do to sort out these technical glitches and smoothen the process to procure food grains in Gujarat. 

The author is a Laadli Media Fellow. The opinions and views expressed are those of the author. Laadli and UNFPA do not necessarily endorse those views.   

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#Women in Gujarat #Ration challenges