15 July 2012

Food Campaign Now In Vigilance Mode

A public meeting is being organised at 3 p.m. on July 16 at Rabindra Bhaban in Dantan, Paschim Midnapore, to publicise the results of a recent block-level survey on the shabby state of affairs in the rationing system in Datan 1 block and to organise public action for vigilance. All important stake holders have been invited for the meeting such as District Controller (Food and Supplies), Paschim Medinipur; Arun Mahapatra, MLA, Datan, and Bira Mandi, MLA, Keshiary; BDO and Food Inspector, Dantan 1 block; beneficiaries of 9 gram panchayats and leaders of all political parties.

Also present will be eminent scientist, Meher Engineer; West Bengal Advisor to the Supreme Court, Anuradha Talwar; State Committee member of PBKMS, Swapan Ganguly; and, eminent social activist and member of National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM), Debjit Dutta.

Please find below a note giving the background to the meeting and please do join us if possible. A copy of the study is attached

Sandip Singha
Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, Paschim Midnapore

On June 26, 2012, a number of trade unions, mass organisations and NGOs in West Bengal, all part of the Right To Food and Work Campaign - West Bengal, announced the start of the ‘Tala Kholo Abhijan’. The purpose was to focus public attention on hunger that continues to exist amidst overflowing Government stocks of foodgrain. In West Bengal, there is the added problem of a new Government which is struggling to stem the continuing rot in the Public Distribution System (PDS). 

Activities been started in Datan as part of this campaign. Datan 1 block is to be a pilot in organising public vigilance on the rationing system. A recent study in Datan 1 block (Paschim Midnapore) conducted by Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), one of the constituent organisations of the Campaign, has shown shocking results. The study covered 18 shops and 148 beneficiaries in all. Almost 40% of the cardholders had no ration cards in their possession. Most shops did not have boards outside the MR shops that are legally required by the Supreme Court, stating basic information such as stock rates, quotas and list of beneficiaries. Of the 148 beneficiaries interviewed only five reported receiving the correct amount of foodgrain. No cash memos were issued to cardholders. It was clear that Sales Registers maintained by the ration dealers were clearly cooked up records, as were their logbooks showing stocks and allocations. The entire PDS seemed to be functioning on a whole lot of spurious and outdated information.

The results of this study were shared with Mr Nurul Haque, Food Commissioner, and Mr Jaydev Jana, Director (Distribution, Procurement and Supply) on June 13, 2012, and later on July 3, 2012, with the Minister for Food and Civil Supplies, Mr Jyotipriya Mallick, by PBKMS members along with Anuradha Talwar, West Bengal Advisor to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court. After discussions with them, it was agreed that the inspection system was failing and there was a need for public vigilance and awareness to ensure that beneficiaries got their entitlements. It was also agreed that the West Bengal Advisor would take up activities in the block to generate public awareness with the help of PBKMS. This would be treated as a pilot to understand how to increase public vigilance. 

A phone call system to inform 60-70 interested members of the public about their weekly allotment is being organised by the PBKMS for the past month and feedback shows that those who know about their allotments are ensuring that they get the correct amount. In the same vein, a public meeting is being organised on July 16, 2012, at at Datan to publicise the results of the recent survey and to organise people’s committees for vigilance.
Meanwhile, ration dealers have started reacting to the increased public vigilance. On July 5, 2012, a drunken ration dealer forced his way into the PBKMS office at Barangi in Datan 1 block and threatened the PBKMS activist couple that lives and works there. The Ration Dealers Association of the block has split with a large section leaving the CPI(M) to join the Trinamool Congress for protection. Cohorts of the ration dealers made a threat in public on July 14, 2012 that PBKMS leaders would be beaten and thrown out of the block.

It is amid such threats and intimidation that the meeting is being organised on July 16. The PBKMS plans to use the meeting to start an SMS-based system to inform people about their allotments every week. It also plans to set up people's committees in each ration shop as well as provide training to such committee members, as also to the members of the official vigilance committees. It is also proposed that the complaints system at the block level be revamped to ensure maximum public involvement and responsiveness.

Related read: PDS in West Midnapore, report prepared by Mrinalini Paul

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