19 May 2017

Thousands March For Right To Food

Undaunted by the heat and the sun, with temperatures reaching 400C, members of the Right to Food and Work Campaign-West Bengal reached Kolkata on April 27 for a deputation to the Food and Supplies Department. Those participating came from the Himalayan foothills of North Bengal, the islands of the Sunderbans, the burning red laterite soil of western West Bengal, the areas bordering Bangladesh and the green plains surrounding the Hooghly. Those in the processions ranged from sex workers to midday meal cooks, agricultural workers to van rickshaw pullers, housewives to members of self-help groups, domestic servants to tea garden workers etc. 

This huge group of over 5,000 people from 16 districts of the State, along with the urban poor of Kolkata, sent a delegation that met the Secretary Food and Supplies Department, Mr Durga Das Goswami and Joint Secretary and Nodal Officer (for the National Food Security Act), Mr Shubra Chakraborty. Their response was as follows:

Measures would be taken by the Department to segregate Government and tea management rations so that the management does not cheat tea garden workers by replacing its food grain component of wages-in-kind with Government rations.

The Department was already considering the Campaign’s demands to give wheat instead of bad quality atta. It was also in the process of issuing a circular to ensure that the five different types of cards are not used unfairly and to stop many poor families being enlisted as RKSY 2 and many better off families being given Antodaya cards. 

The delegation was assured that Vigilance and Monitoring Committees would be formed and made functional soon and representation from Campaign members in these committees would also be ensured.

The officials said that allotment copies of the amount of food grains transferred to each ration dealer would be provided to the members of the campaign. For this purpose, the delegation was asked to give a list of names with phone numbers in every block to whom they would give the allotment copy. Also the SMS system to provide ration card holders with information about their allotments would be re-started.

Issues such as universalization of the rationing system, formation of the Food Commission, bringing all food schemes under the Food Security Rules and providing all ration card holders with 14kgs of food grains, 1.5 kg pulses, 800 ml edible oil and 1 litre kerosene oil at subsidized prices were policy issues which they would forward to their superiors.

While the Department felt that the PoS machine could be used to stop corruption, they agreed to look at the Campaign’s experience in other states and to see that PoS machines and Aadhar cards do not become a means of exclusion.

The delegation was assured that on giving specific experiences, all food grains due to beneficiaries from their past quotas in the rationing system would be immediately disbursed to the beneficiaries;

The participants from 17 districts came to the Subodh Mullick Square in two rallies from Howrah Station, and Sealdah station. Throughout the rallies their main slogan was “Work in every hand and Food in every plate”, interspersed with songs and dances. 

While the original intention was to go to Khadya Bhawan itself, the police stopped the rallies at SM Square, where many participants made speeches in support of the demands while a delegation of 7 people met the Minister’s representatives.

Amongst the participating organisations, who are all members of the Campaign, were Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, Shramajeevi Mahila Samity, Udayani Social Action Forum’s self help group members, TUCC, Swayam’s Nari Suraksha committees, Durbar Disha Griha Paricharika Union, Durbar Mahila Samanvay Committee, BMCDM etc.
JANA SANGHATI KENDRA,1 Shibtala Road,Maheswarpur, Badu, Kolkata 700128

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