Dilemma for paddy farmers too
Corruption amidst confusion
At Tirkela village, fair price shop owner Narmada Yadav refers to a list from August while handing out foodgrains. He does not have an updated list. According to Praikra of the non-profit Chaupal, ration cards of 16 families in the village were cancelled during verification. While the survey in urban areas was conducted by food inspectors, in rural areas it was the panchayat secretary and a government school teacher. Praikra says any decision to cancel ration card has to be taken up in the gram sabha (village council). “Under Chhattisgarh’s Food Security Act, every village is supposed to have a monitoring committee for pds. But these procedures were hardly followed during the verification drive,” he adds.
When this correspondent asked the panchayat secretary, Lakhan Singh, on why so many ration cards were cancelled, he did not explain the logic. “We have conducted verification according to the rules laid down by the government.No outsider has any business to question our decision,” he replied. On the other hand, Gopal Tirkey, the school teacher involved in the drive, admits that the ration cards were cancelled in an unfair manner.
Village residents are protesting. They have accused Lakhan Singh of hiding details about his own family. “His mother has a separate bpl card while he holds the position of the panchayat secretary. Even his mother’s card should be cancelled,” says sarpanch Hardeo Tirkey.
The government, meanwhile, is unclear on the status of the ration cards that have been recalled and is under the impression that beneficiaries are still availing subsidised foodgrains. “Since every fair price shop dealer gets a list of the beneficiary allotted to him, he looks at the list, keeps a record and gives foodgrains,” says a government food inspector.
Contrary to what the government believes, some pds dealers have used the opportunity to hoard foodgrains. While the ration cards of 16 families in Tirkela were recalled, their names appeared in the list available with Yadav, the sole fair price shop owner in the area. These families have accused Yadav of pilfering their share
"The state government received many complaints about bogus ration cards. There was a sudden surge in the number of BPL households, bringing down all indicators of growth. Therefore, we felt the need to verify it" PDS "The decision to cancel a ration card must be taken up in the village council. Under the State Food Security Act, every village must have a monitoring committee for PDS. But this procedure was not followed during the verification drive"
of ration and have also written to the food inspector to cancel his licence. They allege that Yadav refuses to show the list on the basis of which he has been selling subsidised foodgrains. Rice being a staple in Chhattisgarh, the mess in pds has also affected paddy farmers. At the same time when the government was conducting verification of ration cards, the Centre put a cap of 1.6 million tonnes on paddy procurement from the state, causing unrest among 1.1 million farmers who depend on paddy cultivation.In order to have a good supply of rice, the state government fixed the minimum support price (msp) at 300 per quintal, much higher than the
` msp of any of the neighbouring states. This worked well for pds but the Centre’s withdrawal of the bonus in August put an additional burden of 7,000 crore on the state’s
` budget.The Centre also declared that it will only buy paddy for the national pds pool, indicating that the state has to procure paddy on its own. Recently, the state government postponed the date of procurement of paddy from November 1 to December 1. This further agitated the farmers as they now have to look for alternatives to store the harvested paddy.
According to Samir Garg, member of the Supreme Court Committee on Food, with municipal and panchayat polls in the state slated for December-January 2015,the Raman Singh administration is in a dilemma on how to right the wrongs in the state’s pds. “We do not believe 1.3 million ration cards were bogus. Also, for paddy procurement, only 1.1 million farmers contribute to pds, while there are 4.2 million farmers in the state. Giving a subsidy of 300
` per quintal to one-third of the farmers in the state while depriving 1.3 million beneficiaries from securing essential foodgrains is not a judicious decision,” says Garg.
With local elections round the corner and demands from the Opposition to not bow down before the Centre and to keep procuring paddy, the real test for Chhattisgarh’s pds begins now. The state government seems to be buckling under pressure. It has not welcomed a new proposal to include edible oil among the essential commodities given under pds, Garg says. Can the government restore the lost sheen to a food security mechanism that was once cited as a model for others?