Amid lockdown, Bengal governor and government lock horns over ‘PDS scam’ | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Amid lockdown, Bengal governor and government lock horns over ‘PDS scam’

Hindustan Times, Kolkata | By
Apr 19, 2020 09:51 PM IST

Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has claimed that supplies were not reaching the needy and that the PDS has been hijacked by Trinamool Congress while the people are getting the food grains in lesser quantity and of poor quality.

Amid the lockdown to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, an alleged scam in the public distribution system (PDS) continues to snowball in Bengal with Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, senior leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) targeting the Mamata Banerjee government.

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has clashed several times with the Mamata Banerjee’s government over a range of issues.(ANI FILE PHOTO)
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has clashed several times with the Mamata Banerjee’s government over a range of issues.(ANI FILE PHOTO)

The state government, on its part, blamed the Centre on Sunday for the shortfall of food grains and accused ration shop owners in the state of giving inadequate ration to the people.

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“The requirement of rice that the Centre was supposed to provide under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna is 3 lakh metric tonnes per month. As of Sunday, we have received only 1,41,000 metric tonnes. How can we collect less than half the requirement? Whom should we deliver and whom should not? Let them send at least a month’s supply,” said state food and supplies minister Jyoti Priya Mallick.

Incidentally, following Dhankhar’s allegation on social media that there was a “PDS scam” in the state, chief secretary Rajiva Sinha on Saturday wrote a letter to the governor in which he too alleged that the Centre was not sending adequate supplies.

In an interview to Hindustan Times in Sunday, Dhankhar said, “I have personally spoken to union minister Ram Vilas Paswan and was shocked to know that the state had not even raised the requisition indent for the food grains that the Centre and the Food Corporation of India are ready to provide. Paswan had also spoken to Mallick a few days ago. The Centre has given all details and the same have been forwarded to the state administration.”

Paswan is the cabinet minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution.

Dhankhar said that there were three problems with the PDS in West Bengal. “First, supplies are not reaching the needy. Second, the PDS has been hijacked by the ruling party and distribution is taking place through them. And third, people are getting the food grains in lesser quantity and of poor quality,” Dhankhar said.

Mallick, however, said that Bengal did not need to send requisition because it is a ‘direct procurement state’. “We never send requisition. The governor is unaware that we do not procure from the Centre. We procure directly from farmers. The Centre only needs to send what they have committed,” he said.

The Trinamool Congress also has rubbished Dhankhar’s allegation of “political hijacking of PDS.”

“The governor is misleading the people of the state. PDS is being distributed through ration shops. Whenever party leaders are distributing relief, it is they who are arranging for the funds. They are raising funds and paying from their own pockets. The governor should not confuse PDS with the distribution of relief material by our party,” said TMC spokesperson Snehasish Chakraborty.

“Give us a single case of party leaders distributing PDS and action will be taken,” Chakraborty said.

Mallick said that the chief minister has decided to provide free rice to 9.5 crore people of the state. The state’s present population is estimated at above 10 crore at present. It was 9.13 crore, according to the Census of 2011.

Mallick however, conceded that there are problems at ration shops. “There are 21,000 ration shops and we don’t have enough staff strength to monitor the activities of every shop in real-time. Many of them were previously penalised by the state government but they won the cases in the high court. It is only a handful of ration dealers who are still indulging in malpractices. We are taking action as soon as reports are reaching us,” Mallick said.

Mamata Banerjee has announced free ration – two kg rice and three kg wheat per head – to 9.5 crore people for six months.

The food minister said that some ration shops could not provide people with the whole quota of 5 kg food grains due to a shortage of supply, as most rice mills remained closed.”

“There are about 900 operational rice mills. Of them only about 200 are functional at present. We are trying to make the other mills operational at the earliest. In Kolkata, some ration shops are too tiny to store large quantities. They have been allowed to store in neighbouring schools.”

Right to Food activist Anuradha Talwar said that shortage of supply was the main issue for a good number of people not receiving adequate rice.

“Corruption is a minor issue. Going by the number of ration cards and the projected present population of the state, only 62% are to get rations. The state government additionally provides ration to another 20%. Altogether, only 82% are getting covered. It is absolutely essential that the Centre starts distributing food grains from its buffer stock which is meant for catastrophic situations,” said Talwar.

Biswambhar Basu, general secretary of All India Fair Price Shop Dealers’ Association, refuted the allegations of corruption. “Not a single person who holds a digital ration card has been denied ration. Those who did not enrol for the digital ration cards and are no longer entitled to receive ration from our shops are the ones creating trouble,” Basu said.

He admitted that in some cases people were given half their entitlement because the shops did not get enough supplies due to shortage of manpower, difficulties in transport and lack of storage space for the surge in demand. “Those who received half their entitlement would receive the rest before the end of this month,” he added.

Over the past few days, Bengal has witnessed a number of protests against ration shop owners.

Leaders of BJP and Left parties had alleged that PDS reach the leaders of the ruling party, the Trinamool Congress, instead of those who needed it.

The administration over the past three days have lodged police cases against 36 ration shop owners and several of them have been arrested, according to a senior officer of the state food and supplied department.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, principal correspondent, Hindustan Times, Kolkata, has been covering politics, socio-economic and cultural affairs for over 10 years. He takes special interest in monitoring developments related to Maoist insurgency and religious extremism.

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