Fair price shops in bribery chain

For a retailer running the PDS outlet, it is no ordinary task to resist the wrong practice and come unscathed from the graft ring.  

The demand-supply gap in food grains in Kerala has given scope for widespread anomalies in the distribution of rice through the public distribution system. Corruption is rampant in the running of the PDS outlets, popularly known as ration shops, as has been acknowledged by vigilance reports; yet, the malaise continues.

Ration retailers have to grease the palm of officials of Civil Supplies department if they have to survive, says Babychan Mukkadan, Secretary of All India Ration Dealers Association, one of the three prominent unions of the dealers in the State. Food grains distribution through PDS in the State involves black marketing worth crores of rupees. Bribe worth Rs.4 crore is being given by about 14,000 retailers and 330 wholesale dealers in the State every month and the money reaches the hands of officials involved in a vicious circle of operations, according to him.

For the retailer running the PDS outlet, it is no ordinary task to resist the wrong practice and come unscathed from the graft ring. Each retailer pays about Rs.5,000 every month to the officials, he says.

The ration dealer is at the mercy of partymen, says Shajahan, a retailer. “The retailers have little option than to become part of the bribery ring in a system where the authority dealing with complaints is also authorised to frame chargesheet and pronounce orders,” says Mr. Babychan.

There is ample scope for officials to conduct raid and find discrepancies which could lead to cancellation of the licence of the shop.

The government-approved commission to the retailer is too low, at Rs. 70 per quintal of rice. It is not enough even to meet the running expenses. It is the prime reason behind diverting PDS food grains to black market, he says.

About 40 per cent of the card-holders do not buy PDS grains. The retailer does not lift the full quantity from the wholesale depot while records would show that the entire stock has been distributed. It would mean that out of the 1.13 lakh tonnes of PDS rice which the State receives every month, about 45,000 tonnes go to black marketeers.

According to the retailer association’s accounts, at present, APL (above poverty line) card-holder is eligible for 6 kg of rice at Rs.8.90 per kg while BPL (below poverty line) card-holder can get 18 kg of rice at Re.1 per kg. and the Antyodaya (poorest of the poor) beneficiaries can get 35 kg of rice at Rs.1 per kg. Because of the disputes over APL and BPL categories, those who are listed in the BPL list in panchayat areas are eligible for BPL grains quota even their card is in the APL category.

In short, the diversion of PDS food grains involves multi-crore deals. Much of the diverted grains reach private rice millers who sell it under their brand, selling the commodity around Rs.40 per kg.

The retailers welcome the computerization move in the PDS network. They also demand that the government take over the retail outlets and the operators be paid by the government instead of giving commissions. Tamil Nadu is following such a pattern which could be emulated in Kerala, according to them.

Asked about the allegations of corruption, a senior official of Civil Supplies Department told The Hindu that the department has an in-built system to examine complaints. Written complaints are dealt with as per government rules and action is taken accordingly. Quite often, the complainant retracts from the original stand once the case reaches critical stage, the official says.

Vigilance panel report

According to a report prepared by D.P.Wadhwa, Chairman, Central Vigilance Committee on PDS, in 2010, Kerala has 20 lakh families in the BPL and Antyodaya categories. (As per the Government of India, the figure of BPL families in the State is 15.54 lakh, including the Antyodaya scheme beneficiaries). No annual survey is done of ration cards in the State, which is mandatory requirement as per the PDS Control Order 2001.

The ration card is used as an identity card. It is required for availing benefits under various schemes of the government. This is in gross violation of the provisions of the Public Distribution System (Control) Order, 2001 issued by the Central Government. Ration card should be de-linked from all other schemes and steps should be taken to ensure that it is not used as an identity card, according to the committee.

“There are large number of bogus/fake ration cards against which food grains is sourced by the AWDs (authorized wholesale distributors) and ARDs (authorized retail distributors) which is diverted to the black market,” the committee said. The Committee expressed the view that the wholesale distribution needs to be restructured/revamped. The wholesale distribution in the State should be given to the Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation (Supplyco) by abolishing AWDs, the committee said.

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