In an attempt to woo voters before the general elections, at a venue associated with the historical generosity of the first Sikh Guru, the Punjab government on Tuesday made a big show of launching its retouched atta-dal scheme in the state.
The 2013 version that minister for food, civil supplies and consumer affairs Adesh Partap Singh Kairon launched is designed to hijack the Food Security Act of the Centre's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime. Here in the 15th century, Guru Nanak Dev fed the hungry without wanting anything in return.
Before the function, Kairon said the government was in the process of registering the beneficiaries. "Their number may cross 1.42 crore. So far, it is nearly 80 lakh with the inclusion of more than 19-lakh families," he added. However, the wheat went to only the BPL (below poverty line) families that had signed up already.
The entire machinery of the food department, from the secretary to the inspector, was in the holy town to stand by the minister, who did refer to the venue's historical significance. He said his entire team from Chandigarh was there to take feedback from the beneficiaries; but the crew had moved on in just 15 minutes.
Earlier, he visited historic Gurdwara Ber Sahib, with transport minister Ajit Singh Kohar (who represents the adjoining Lohian Khas constituency), Jalandhar Cantonment legislator Pargat Singh, and former finance minister Bibi Upinderjit Kaur, who lost the 2012 assembly election from here.
The new scheme
Twice a year, the state government will distribute six-month wheat stock (5 kilograms a month for each subscriber) for Rs. 1 per kg and two-month stock of pulses (500 grams a month for each beneficiary) for Rs. 20 a kg, to the existing BLP-card holders to start with. "The district administrations will finalise the list. My job is to take the benefit to the listed people," said food minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon.
About the demand of depot holders for better commission, the minister said: "All issues are settled. They feared they would fail to meet the overhead expenses but we told them their job was only to distribute and keep record."
"From procuring to packaging and delivering fresh purchase every June, my department will do everything," he said.
MLA not invited
Sultanpur Lodhi (Kapurthala): Local Congress legislator Navtej Singh Cheema was angry that he had not been invited to the state-level function.
"As a sitting legislator from the constituency, I deserved the privilege to distribute wheat to the eligible persons," said Cheema. "It was a political function, in which a minister and the rejected Akali leaders boasted of their party's achievements," he added.
"Our workers were denied wheat on the pretext that they were not existing BPL-card holders," said former Congress councillor Mohinder Singh Dhillon. Food department deputy director Karnesh Sharma denied the allegations and confirmed distribution to 4,508 people.