Rice for poor, very nice for black market

Bolangir: The two rupee a kilo rice scheme might have helped the ruling Biju Janata Dal to retain power in the last election. But the scheme is gradually drifting away from the people below poverty line and instead getting close to the storage agents. At least that has become the case in the district in western Odisha. It became evident when a special squad of the district police on Thursday seized not one thousand or two but 50,000 quintals of rice from one godown at Loisingha and arrested the storage agent. The honeymoon between the storage agent and the officials of the civil supplies department has become the town.

Seventy-year-old Padma Sahu from village Mandiapadar under Loisingha block is hardly able to do any physical work to sustain life. He has none to support him either.A frail Padma still wants to live. Aside from the old-age pension of Rs. 200 per month he has no other income. When Padma curses his fate, he expects someone will provide him rice at Rs. two per kilo. But that remains a bad dream. Often he is compelled to purchase rice at Rs. 15 per kilogram. Padma is not an isolated instance. His village has so many Padmas. "We have only heard about the scheme. But never availed it," rues Padma. Chudamani Pandey echoes him.

Then question arise where does the quota end? What is happening to the scheme? What about the real beneficiaries? One can find the answers to all these pervading questions if one looks at the godown at Loisingha. Thousands of quintals of rice brought for distribution among the beneficiaries are stacked in the large godown. The racket between the civil supplies department and the storage agents has been cracked, thanks to the Bolangir police. "The storage agent Gopal Agarwal has been sent on judicial remand,"said Avinash Kumar, district superintendent of police. The seized rice would be worth over Rs. 6 lakhs. It was kept clandestinely to be smuggled in the open market.

Locals say that Gopal Agarwal is only the tip of the iceberg. The black-marketing of BPL rice is rampant in the district. The nexus between the employees of the civil supplies department, storage agents and in certain cases local politicians is very heavily trenched. As yet no follow up action has been against any one of the civil supplies department. Unless action is initiated against government officials involved ion the racket, people complain, the nefarious trade would continue.