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Who ate our foodgrains? Ration cardholders of Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum ask govt

By Siraj Dutta
Hundreds of ration cardholders of 11 villages from across West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand have protested in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s office against the denial of their Public Distribution System (PDS) foodgrains for “many months” over the past two years. Following the protest dharna, a list of demands was forwarded to the district administration, stating, pending grains of all the villages from 2016 onward should be immediately distributed to the cardholders.
Speaking on the occasion, John Kayam of Chakradharpur’s Baipi village said, “None of the cardholders of our village has received PDS grains for the months of September-December 2018.” He added, “We complained several times to the Supply Officer, District Grievance Redress Officer (DGRO), Deputy Commissioner (DC) and even the State Food Commission.”
Kelaram Majhi from the neighbouring village of Kupui said, “We have also not received grains for those months. Eighty-one cardholders of the village have decided that they will not take any PDS ration till they get their pending grains.” A similar view was expressed by protesters from Khuntpanin block’s Ulirajabasa, Bada Bankua, Onkolkuti and Sonua’s Podahat.
The National Food Security Act mandates that all grievances are to be redressed within one month. Many cardholders present at the dharna said that, despite repeated complaints to the block and district administrations over the past one year, their issues remain unresolved.
Villagers of Kupui said that the Block Supply Officer and the ration dealer had forged their thumbprints and signatures in a report to the district administration, according to which the cardholders of the village should have received grains for September to December 2018, but they are yet to receive it. DGRO threatened them that their ration cards would be cancelled if they did not agree to take the ration for months other than September-December 2018.
People of Khuntpani’s Ulirajabasa said that they did not get ration for three months in 2016, one month in 2017 and four months in 2018. After several complaints, they were called for a district-level hearing. But the DGRO declared that they will get pending grains only for the four months of 2018. According to her, cases of 2016 and 2017 are very old. Elderly Suniya Jojo of Baipi said, “Don’t the officials feel ashamed to eat the ration meant for the poor”.
Biren Diggi of Sonua’s Podahat village died of hunger in December 2018 after being denied grains for four months. Kaushalya Diggi of the same village said in the dharna today that despite so many complaints since then, the villagers are yet to be given ration for September-December 2018. Cardholders of Lupungutu village of Chaibasa Sadar block asserted, the ration dealer makes them authenticate in the electronic Point of Sale machine but does not give them grains.
Manki Tubid, who works on people’s rights in the district, said that irregularities in the PDS are not limited to a few villages, but are widespread across the district. While the ration dealers claim that they are not allocated grains, according to the administration, the dealers are regularly allocated grains as per their online transaction reports. A question raised by everyone in dharna was, “Where is the grain going then?” This also makes hollow the claims of the government that Aadhaar has helped in checking leakages in PDS, it was added.
Since Aadhaar was made mandatory in the PDS, cardholders have been facing several hassles. Ration cards not linked with Aadhaar were cancelled in thousands. Many of them are yet to be reissued new cards. Elderly Shuru of Lupungutu village is denied her grain entitlement since a year as her card was cancelled. None of the dealers maintains exemption registers to distribute grains to those who are not unable to successfully authenticate themselves through biometrics.
Representatives met the official on special duty (OSD) of DC. He admitted that several villages of the district are facing this issue. He also said that people would not get the pending ration as the dealer was not allocated the grains. He said the department allocates grains to the dealers as per their online transaction report. When it was pointed out that it means that grains are getting leaked, he remained silent. 
The team submitted a memorandum to DC, which included the following demands: 
  • Pending grains of all the villages from 2016 onward should be immediately distributed to the cardholders.
  • All eligible families whose ration cards have been cancelled, should be immediately issued new cards 
  • Ration dealers responsible for siphoning off PDS grains should be terminated and all functionaries responsible for the irregularities should be adequately punished. 
  • Aadhaar-based biometric authentication system should be removed from the PDS. 
The dharna ended with burning of effigies of DGRO and the District Supply Officer.

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