Villagers complained of shoddy distribution by the district authority

Following the State government’s decision, the philanthropic organisation, the Ramakrishna Mission, has resumed distribution of of food grains through ration shops in Abujhmarh, a vast swathe of forestland in the south-west of Chhattisgarh. In 2009, the government had asked the Narayanpur branch of the 116-year-old organization to hand over the shops to the district authority on the claim that the distributed food grains were reaching the Maoists through the villagers.

But reports from both governmental and private institutions about poor distribution in Abujhmarh, especially during monsoons, prompted the government to return the five fair price (ration) shops to the organisation. The shops have started operating inside the 3900 square kilometre forestland , entirely dominated by the left wing rebels, and the government has charted out a plan to start many more shops, once the Mission establishes a network. ‘Link between tribals and the world’

The organisation had started distribution of food grains in Abujhmarh in 1988, under the central government’s scheme to distribute rations at a subsidized rate to the poor.

Till 2009, there were five shops set up in the area which has been unexplored by the State since independence.

Set up in five villages – Kutul, Akabeda, Kachchapal, Irakbhatti and Kundla – the shops acted as the only links between the 34,000 Abujhmaria tribals inhabiting 233 far-flung villages and the rest of the world, according to the organisation’s newsletter published in 2009.

But in the same year, the shops were taken away from the organisation on the claim that Maoists were benefitting from the scheme.

This was a questionable decision, confessed a senior bureaucrat. As Maoists would obtain food anyway, there was no justification to stop distribution to the poor, he said. However, distribution was not stopped. Instead, the shops were handed over to the Narayanpur district administration which in turn asked the Panchayats in Abujhmarh to run the outlets.

Villagers alleged last September – as was reported in The Hindu –that there was inadequate distribution of food grains, especially during monsoon in Abujhmarh, in spite of claims that a full-scale subsidized food delivery system was in place.

The Narayanpur collector refuted the villagers’ allegations.

However, when poor feedback about the functioning of the Panchayat-run shops started coming in from their own employees, the senior officials of the State government started retracting their opinion.

A team of government health workers who went to the area some months back to find out the cause of deaths of people during monsoon in the forest area, submitted a report which stated that the system was dysfunctional.

After some consideration, we decided to hand over the shops again to the Ramakrishna Mission, the senior officer said.

‘Happy with decision’

The chief of the organisation in Narayanpur, Swami Vyaptanandji, is happy with the decision.

We resumed service immediately. We use tractors and four-wheeled jeeps to distribute food ,Mr. Vyaptanandji said.

As Maoists were benefitting from the scheme allegedly, the ration shops were handed over the district authority in 2009