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Berhampur: A controversial decision of a panchayat in Ganjam district to stop ration supply under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) to beneficiaries, who were found defecating in open, has been withdrawn in the face of a hue and cry.

Ration supply was stopped to 24 families, in Goutami panchayat under Sanakhemundi Block, for alleged defecation on the roadside.

Sarpanch of Goutami Panchayat, Sushant Swain, said that the intention of the panchayat was "not to deny ration under public distribution system (PDS) to any family".

"Our aim is to caution the families who are in the habit of defecating in the open, despite several awareness campaigns," Swain said.

The families whose ration was stopped initially will get the supply this week, he said.

The ration distribution for October would continue till November 10, Swain said.

According to a decision taken at a panchayat meeting on October 20, the distribution of ration under the PDS was stopped to over 20 families, Swain had said on Friday.

The move to stop the ration supply was strongly opposed by many, who said that it violated the right to food, as enshrined in the Constitution.

Several people, including women members of the panchayat, had staged a dharna outside the block office on Saturday against the decision to stop the ration supply.

They withdrew the stir only after the Block Development Officer (BDO) assured them that all the beneficiaries would get their ration in a week.

"We decided to withdrew the agitation after an assurance by the BDO," said Antaryami Swain, a former sarpanch.

"I have inquired that 400 families of the panchayat are yet to get their ration supply due to shortage of rice.

They will get it by November 10," BDO of Sanakhemundi, Gayatributta Nayak, said.

Mentioning that toilets would soon be constructed for those left out under Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), the BDO said, as many as 180 families do not have toilets in their houses at present.

The panchayat has asked the families to construct toilets in their houses in the next two months, the BDO said.

The sarpanch said a meeting will be convened soon with the sub-collector (Berhampur), BDO (Sanakhemundi), members of the gram panchayat and women self-help groups (SHG) to chalk out a strategy to stop open defecation in the panchayat area.

Earlier, the panchayat had organised various programmes to create awareness to check open defecation.

Despite the awareness drives, several people, including some who have toilets in their houses, continue to defecate in the open, the sarpanch claimed.

"The mindset of the people needs to be changed through a proactive strategy," Swain said.

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