04 July 2012

Food Campaign: One Lock That Opened

As part of the ‘Tala Kholo Abhiyan’ (Opening the Locks), 75 Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity members from 11 blocks of Purulia district gathered before the District Controller of Food and Supplies  (DCF&S) and also met the District Magistrate on June 28.

An interesting development before the Tala Kholo Abhiyan in Purulia was that some 106 workers from Purulia 2 block were called hurriedly the day before the day of the deputation by the block and Panchayat officials. About Rs 48,000 has been paid to them as unemployment allowance in one of the rare occasions when this has been paid to workers in West Bengal. A PBKMS member said when she heard about this said “Ekta tala khullo!” (At least one lock opened!)

The deputation to the District Food Controller demanded certain immediate steps to be taken regarding the rationing system. The Controller was also given a copy of the demands of the Right to Food and Work Campaign, West Bengal - demands regarding the National Food Security Bill and the distribution of excess food grains rotting in godowns. He promised to discuss these with the State Government, and to ensure that the demands were in turn taken up with the Centre.

A categorical demand was made to the Controller that he should immediately publish a list of who is a Below Poverty Line beneficiary and who is not, along with all ration card holder lists, since it was becoming impossible to otherwise distinguish between false and true ration cards.

Another matter of serious concern was raised by the people of Balarampur and Barabazar blocks. The Government has announced a scheme of cheap foodgrain for people of these blocks. Thus, in 23 LWE (Left Wing Extremist) blocks, in Purulia, Bankura and Paschim Midnapore districts, all tribals with an income below Rs 42,000 per annum and all non-tribals with an income less than Rs  36,000 per annum have been included under the BPL category, and can therefore now get rice at Rs 2 per kg, wheat at Rs 4.65 per kg and atta at Rs 6.70 per kg. These are the “new” BPL, the ones chosen by the Trinamool Congress (TMC). 

The people from these blocks complained that there was discrimination going on between the “new” TMC BPL and the “old” Left Front BPL cardholders. While the “new” BPL were getting 2 kg of rice per head per week at Rs 2 per kg, as per the newly -eclared expanded allotments, the “old” BPL card holders continued to get only 1 kilo of rice for 2 rupees. The Controller said he would take immediate action to see that no such discrimination took place.

It was also clear that the pressure on the ration dealers in the district is increasing. Some of them have tried to complain falsely to the District Controller about two of the prominent PBKMS leaders from Hura block, including the PBKMS district secretary Mohan Mahato. This issue was also discussed with the District Controller.

A delegation also met the District Magistrate on issues related to the 100 days work programme (MGNREGA). The complaints were of not getting unemployment allowance, as well as compensation for late payment of wages. A special meeting was also held with the Puncha and Hura block people regarding giving sufficient employment to job card holders in the 100 days work programme. The District Magistrate specially asked the District Nodal Officer (DNO) in charge of MGNREGA to attend this meeting and it was finally agreed that a joint weekly evaluation would be done by the DNO with PBKMS activists to address their complaints.

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