Saturday, October 20, 2007

Present ration crisis exposes the CPM

When fury strikes: Ration shops set afire by irate mobs in a town in Birbhum district

Present ration crisis exposes the CPM

We have not heard of ration crisis since mid 60s. Now, after 40 years, we are seeing reports of ration riots in West Bengal. The first symptom of current ration disquiet surfaced on September 16 when the CPM rally was attacked by a mob in Bankura. Next day, a ration dealer's house was attacked by locals. Within days of being attacked, the dealer committed suicide. The riots, which started in Bankura soon engulfed districts of Birbhumi, 24 Parganas Bardhman, Murshidabad and Hoogly. More than half a dozen persons have died including the one who was shot dead by the police. The West Bengal Government suspended 117 dealers. Thousands of dealers are reportedly in hiding.

Bengal has a long history of famine. During colonial rule, millions of people died of hunger. Film-maker Satyajit Ray made a film on the famine of 1943. The famine was caused due to apathy of the colonial rulers towards Indian masses and willful transfer of food stocks as per their whims and fancies as also hoarding of stocks by profiteers. Then we heard of food crisis in early 1960s. The CPM got a foothold in West Bengal by exploiting this crisis. It caused advent of CPM lead front to power in the State. After three decades of CPM rule the ration crisis remains.

West Bengal went down on the industrialisation front. Large-scale migration of industrialists took place due to continuous gheraos, sand bandhs. It has not progressed much on the agriculture front, too, the State still continues to be food deficit. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee realised that anti-industry policies will not lead his Government anywhere. Therefore, after getting elected in the last Assembly poll he gave a red-carpet welcome to the investors. But his party comrades, especially the CITU, are pinpricking him.

The current ration riots have exposed the Marxists to the hilt. But the CPM patted itself for implementing land reforms and changing the landscape of rural West Bengal. Despite this propaganda, not much has happened. Let us see what happened in the ration front.

There are 20,000 ration shops. The dealership has been given to CPM cadre, workers or sympathisers. Public Distribution System (PDS) is thoroughly corrupt. Under the PDS specified quantity of rice and wheat is given to a family, depending upon the number of person, at discounted prices. In the form of dealers a new section of exploiters have come up. They live in big houses and have a luxurious life style.

There are different schemes for people below poverty line (BPL) and people above the poverty line (APL). First the Centre allots wheat, rice, sugar to the State, the State lifts the stocks and distributes it to BPL and APL cardholders through PDS. There have been numerous complaints about food grains meant for the BPL and APL cardholders being siphoned off in the open market. The Consumer Affairs Ministry conducted an enquiry and found that more than Rs 31,585 crore meant for the poor was siphoned off from the PDS in the last three years. The largest being reported from UP and West Bengal.

During the food riots dealers in West Bengal were targeted. Southern Bengal Ration Dealers Association staged a dharna
outside the State Food Ministry demanding punishment for corrupt officers and protection for themselves. The Association functionary Nirmal Sarkar complained that the dealers are forced to pay weakly bribes to local CPM leaders, panchayat members and the officers. "We have no other way but to make for the loss incurred there by selling the food grains or other goods in the black market". Perturbed by riots, the blame game. The CPM blamed Centre for decreasing West Bengal quota of wheat and rice. Food Corporation of India (FCI) officials claimed that even allotted stocks were not lifted by West Bengal.

Food and Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar has hinted that the food grains are being smuggled out from West Bengal to Bangladesh in large quantities. The CPM has absolved its of the responsibility by saying that the borders are guarded by BSF who never brought it to their notice. The CPM is sacred due to impending panchayat elections and fall out of ration riots in the election. It has blamed Zamiyat Ulema-e-Hind and Maoists for the riots. It has also pointed fingers at Trinamool Congress.

A portion of blame must be directed towards the price rise. When food grains prices were affordable, large numbers of APL cardholders were purchasing food grain from the market. Due to price rise they have fallen back upon the ration shops. The dealers did not lift stocks for APL cardholders, as they were not turning up. Suddenly during last few months they have been queuing at the ration shops and the crises exploded.

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