At a time when the nation is contemplating legislation for food security, the Jharkhand government has issued an order that could leave thousands of poor families depending on public distribution system (PDS) for free food grains to fend for themselves.
Based on the orders issued by food and civil supplies secretary Rajbala Verma, the Ranchi district administration has already cancelled licenses to as many as 17 PDS dealers in urban areas without making any alternatives for the people for ration. These licenses were issued to the dealers on compassionate grounds in conformity to the Bihar Licensing Order 1984, which was adopted by the Jharkhand government, and a subsequent order issued in 2006 by the department.
The latest order issued by the department on March 13, 2012 which asks for cancelling all licenses issued after August 2009 on compassionate ground, has raised many eyebrows in the bureaucracy over the way it has been executed. Although the letter categorically asked for taking action against all officials, who issued licenses after the period, action followed only on the PDS dealers. As per the Bihar Licensing Order, deputy commissioners or sub-divisional officers have the power to issue PDS licenses.
Some secretary rank officers told the Hindustan Times that Verma seem to have ignored taking the consent of the departmental minister while issuing the letter as it pertained to policy matter. “Moreover, the letter did not make any reference as to how the ration card holders attached with PDS dealers, whose licenses were cancelled, would get essential commodities of their quota that come free for the poor,” they remarked.
In the first phase of action, licenses of 17 PDS dealers were cancelled in urban areas, while those in rural areas are waiting for their turn. Officials feared that 8,000 BPL families, who were attached with these outlets, would be left to starve in the State capital alone. “The ramification of the order would be far and wide in other districts and rural areas, where density of BPL families is higher,” they said.
Sources in the department said that recent order was issued in the light of an interim order of the Jharkhand High Court in a writ petition filed by Rohit Kumar Agrawal seeking PDS license on compassionate ground. The interim order asked the government to consider Agrawal’s case on sympathetic ground if ‘there is no impediment’. According to the 2006 order when the State government banned opening of new PDS shops, only compassionate ground and cancellation of dealership were treated as criteria to qualify for procuring licenses for new dealership.
The food and civil supplies department issued another letter in 2009 that mandated issuance of new PDS licenses to the women’s self-help group of BPL category. However, the previous order was never annulled or changed. “As the secretary did not want to comply with the high court order, she used the latest order in her good stead to cancel all licenses issued on compassionate grounds. Ironically, the affected dealers were not given the chance to explain their point,” argued a rationing officer.
It may be recalled that the Justice Wadhwa committee, which was set up by the Supreme Court to suggest remedial measures in the PDS, also justified offering dealership licenses to dependents in the event of death of the original licensee. A retired Supreme Court Justice DP Wadhwa, then chairman on Central Vigilance Committee on PDS, had submitted his recommendations in February 2009.
Food and civil supplies minister Mathura Mahato said he would look into the matter and take corrective steps soon. Verma refused to talk on the issue despite repeated calls made to her mobile. Ranchi deputy commissioner KK Soan and sadar sub-divisional officer Shekhar Jamuar said they were implementing the orders of the government. They feigned their ignorance towards the Jharkhand High Court’s interim order, even though it was prominently referred in the department’s directives.