Maoists are planning to loot ration shops and government food godowns in West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia demanding immediate distribution of rice at the rate of Rs 2 a kg in conformity with the government’s declared policy.
If subsidized rice is not distributed by the end of the pujas, the rebels will launch their operation, threatened a rebel leader.
There are about 1,000 ration dealers in the Maoist-affected areas of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts. One of them, Dasarath majhi, 50, has already been killed in the Ajodhya hills of Purulia district on October 4.
“If the government and the ration dealers fail to meet our deadline, our men will start raiding the residence and godowns of the ration dealers as well as government food godowns.
We will loot foodgrains and distribute them among the poor,” said Vikram, spokesperson of the banned CPI(Maoist)’s Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa Border Regional Committee.
Jagannath Koley, president, West Bengal M.R. Dealers’ Association confirmed to HT they have been already conveyed the threat. “We have already discussed the threat to the ration dealers with the district administration in Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore.
If we come under attack, we will be forced to shut down the shops,” said Koley. The state food minister Paresh Adhikari didn’t respond to repeated phone calls and messages from HT.
In 2007-08, dozens of ration dealers in Bankura came under public fury for not distributing food grains according to the rules. Coming under intense pressure, three ration dealers even committed suicide.
Subsequently, the outcry against ration dealers spread to neighbouring districts of Burdwan and Birbhum, though they never reached the levels in Bankura.
Koley feels the Maoist demand of distributing rice to all at Rs 2 per kg would not be possible to meet.
“For now, we cover about 38 per cent people. With the government’s new package, we can at most cover up 60 to 70 per cent of the total population there under this scheme,” said Koley.
Incidentally, the ruling CPI(M) in Bengal also demands the Center should distribute 35 kg rice per month per head at Rs 2 per kg to everybody without discriminating between those above or below the poverty line.
Koley said that the distribution of rice at this rate could not be started there, as the new BPL cards are yet to be ready. According to rules those who have the BPL card are entitled to this rice, though complaints are common that they don’t get it regularly.
Moreover, the government admits many deserving people have been left out in the BPL rolls, thus precluding them from any benefits. “The officers could not complete the work of giving new cards because of disturbances in different areas,” said Koley.
However, he hopes distribution would start to some extent within a week. CPI(M) leaders claim the West Bengal government gives subsidized rice to 2.65 crore people. CPI(Maoist) sources said they have been trying to initiate a movement against the ration dealers for more than a year, “punishing” some of them in the past few months.
While some dealers were let off after they agreed to do sit ups, holding their ears, in front of the public, some had to walk through the whole village holding their ears. “The Maoists are demanding hefty amounts from the ration dealers in the areas of their influence,” said a ration dealer of Purulia district on the condition of anonymity, and rubbished Maoist claims that his peers are involved in embezzling food stocks.