‘Procedures at shops constantly expose them to the risk of infection’
Over 14,200 ration dealers, who serve 90.45 lakh card holders across the State, have demanded that they be considered ‘frontline warriors’ in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic and allotted vaccine on priority basis.
“Ration licensees and sales personnel are constantly exposed to danger because they are continuously in contact with people who come to take delivery of their supplies,” said B. Rahuleyan, Cherthala taluk secretary of the Kerala State Retail Ration Dealers’ Association.
The demand for priority vaccination has been raised with the State authorities, he said, as he pointed out that the government had not considered their plea so far.
Johny Nelloor, president of the All Kerala Retail Ration Dealers’ Association, said ration dealers had knocked on all doors to get them enlisted as a priority case for vaccination. But there has been little response from the government, he alleged.
Twenty ration dealers had died of COVID-19 and many are in hospitals, he said and called on the government to at least provide some compensation for the families of the deceased.
One of the threats dealers face is that they use the biometric system and EPOS machines for payments. The procedures require close proximity between dealers and buyers, constantly exposing them to the risk of infection, said Mr. Nelloor.
Mr. Rahuleyan said that on an average, dealers service 70 to 100 card holders, depending on the availability of supplies. There is no way to know who are infected or who come from COVID-19 containment zones, he said.
One of the requests made by ration dealers is that if the government made supplies available in one go, it could end the need for multiple visits to ration outlets. At present, a card holder visits a ration outlet to take delivery of normal supplies, provisions through the Central scheme under PMGKAY as well as special rice supply. Most often, these entail three visits but if these supplies can be combined, the number of visits can be cut down, he added.
Meanwhile, sources in the Civil Supplies Department said that the issue of priority vaccine for ration dealers had been taken up with the State government from the beginning and that the matter was being pursued.
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