At a time when the poor are scrambling for food supplies amid lockdown, few ration shopkeepers in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) have reportedly been diverting free supplies meant for the most marginalised sections.
On Thursday, a vigilance squad of the department raided a ration shop in Mumbai’s Kandivali following a tip-off and found that 2,299 kg of rice, meant to be distributed under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), had been illegally diverted. The shop was sealed and a criminal offence registered against the shopkeeper as per provisions of The Essential Commodities Act, 1955, which makes pilferage and diversion of foodgrains from the public distribution net a non-bailable offence.
A day earlier, on April 15, another fair price shop in the same distribution zone, was found selling subsidised ration stock at a higher rate than prescribed. A case was filed against the licensee at the Dahisar police station. On April 11, a repeat offender from Ambernath was caught selling ration meant for public distribution in the open market. Kailash Pagare, the controller of Rationing and Director of Civil Supplies, told The Indian Express that his license has now been permanently revoked. In Ghatkopar, a ration shop was caught diverting 429 kg rice and 558 kg wheat.
Between April 1 to April 17, Pagare informed, nine cases of misuse of ration supplies have been lodged at various police stations in Mumbai and Thane.
Under the PMGKAY, the Centre has offered additional five-kg wheat or rice free of cost for three months, beginning April, to 800 million poor to help them cope with the prolonged lockdown. The supplies, extended to people covered under the Food Security Act, are over and above their monthly entitlement of subsidised foodgrains — 3 kg wheat, 2 kg rice, and 1 kg lentil.
At the beginning of the month, the state had formed 44 vigilance teams to oversee ration distribution in the urban belts of MMR, which is the worst hit by the pandemic. Following the detection of the cases of diversion, the department, on Friday, formed a special flying squad to tighten surveillance.
“It is unfortunate that even in times such as these, we have found cases where ration meant for the poor is being embezzled. But we have taken strict action. Nine FIRs have been filed in the past fortnight. We have also cancelled the license of one shopkeeper permanently, while another one has been suspended. Those indulging in such corruption won’t be spared,” said Pagare.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar directed guardian ministers of all districts to personally supervise ration distribution during the lockdown. In a Cabinet meeting last week, senior ministers from Mumbai, including Nawab Malik, Varsha Gaikwad and Aslam Shaikh, had complained about irregular food supplies to poor families, following which a senior bureaucrat has been appointed to look into these grievances.
Pagare, however, defended the overall distribution so far. “We have 4,223 ration shops in the region. Till April 17, we had already distributed 88 per cent of the subsidised ration stock. The distribution of free ration (only rice) under PMGKAY commenced on April 12. In six days, we have covered 41 per cent of the beneficiaries,” he said.
Until Friday, 6.92 lakh of the 19.47 lakh cardholders had lifted the free stock. “The infrastructure needed to transport the foodgrains from Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns to fair price shops was beefed up to do this,” he added. While admitting that even the department’s consumer redressal hotline has been buzzing with complaints, Pagare said, a majority of these were to do with meeting supplies for those not entitled for ration under the Food Security Act.
Earlier this month, the Maharashtra cabinet had widened its own public distribution net, agreeing to supply subsidised ration even to saffron ration cardholders, not covered under the Act. But the state’s offer is for two months, starting May. Sources said the government is now pushing the department to advance the lifting and supply for even this category of beneficiaries. “We’re planning to start lifting from April 20 onwards,” said Pagare.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines