At the Bihar Poverty Alleviation Summit held in Patna this week, it was wondered aloud as to why only 4-5 per cent of the State’s rations reached Below Poverty Line (BPL) card holders via the Public Distribution System (PDS), as compared to other States where the PDS accounted for at least 40 per cent of the food consumption of people living below the poverty line.

The State Government does not have to ponder too hard for the right answer, as the drought-ravaged villagers in nearby Masaurhi have busted a “ration mafia” and recovered vast quantities worth over Rs. 1.5 crores.

With the active support from the members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, the villagers have launched a movement against the coercion of PDS dealers. The villagers targeted 30 such dealers in and around Masaurhi and Dhanarua blocks. The catch here is that each of these dealers belonged to different parties, and had massive political and administrative clout.

In this “ration mafia”, as the villagers tag it, the modus operandi is that instead of storing the rations in his own godowns, the dealer, in collusion with the authorities, sells rations straight to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns. Of the 30 targeted, 12 of them allegedly owed their allegiance to the ruling JD (U), 10 to RJD, 6 to LJP and 2 incidentally were from the CPI (ML).

“The movement has to be viewed in the wider context of hunger deaths”, CPI (ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya told The Hindu.

According to a report prepared by members of the CPI (ML), Rs.15,611,730 has been recovered so far. “Most of them are instances of coercion and withholding rations on the part of the dealer and his hired men,” said Shyam Chandra Choudhary, CPI (ML) member and party-in-charge of Patna Rural.

“For instance, at Masaurhi in ward number 13, the dealer, in collusion with the ward councillor, had not distributed rations to 245 people for almost a year. It took a militant demonstration on the part of the people in front of the SDO’s office to secure their rightful rations,” said Mr.Choudhary.

Similarly, at Sarbadahi block, the villagers took the dealer, Suresh Prasad Singh, to task. Villagers revealed that Mr. Singh withheld rations for seven months.

“He has swallowed 20 months worth rations, but we were helpless as he had close links with the ruling JD (U) MLA Poonam Devi,” alleged a villager, on condition of anonymity.

Villagers at Siriya block reportedly retrieved 10 months’ pending rations from RJD strongman Ramanand Yadav.

“This non-political movement is aimed at mobilizing the people and freeing them from the tyrannical yoke of the dealer. The result of this has been that the dealers, now fearing the people’s wrath, have started distributing food grains and oil on time,” said Mr. Choudhary.

No media coverage

He further said that the complacency of the dealers was due to the fact that most of these cases do not receive attention in the media.

“In most of the cases, the villagers never get their full ration of 25 kilos. Last year in the Maina Tarn block of Laxmipur village in West Champaran district, the dealer and his cohorts mercilessly beat Sheshnath Ram, a BPL cardholder, to death when he demanded his full quota of rations. While his cohorts were apprehended, the dealer escaped scot-free,” alleged Mr.Choudhary.