Fair price shops exist only on paper in Puducherry

The system has all but collapsed with wheat and pulses not being distributed and rice falling victim to a spat between Bedi and the Chief Minister

The Public Distribution System (PDS) has become non-existent in the Union Territory with cardholders not getting any of the essential commodities through fair price shops.

The system has practically collapsed in Puducherry as the supply of essential commodities, including wheat and pulses, has come down with only rice being distributed over the years. But even that, under the free rice scheme, has become erratic and has run into a rough patch due to a difference of opinion between the Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi and the Congress government headed by V. Narayanasamy.

Cash over rice

The quantum of rice decided by the elected government was uniform for all families irrespective of their economic status. But suspecting that there would be pilferage and corrupt practices in the scheme’s implementation, the Lt. Governor stuck to her stand that the cash equivalent of the quantum of rice for BPL families should be credited under the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system to bank accounts of the beneficiaries.

With the difference of opinion becoming an issue, it was referred to Union Home Ministry (MHA) and it approved the stand taken by Ms. Bedi. The immediate implication of abandoning supply of rice and introducing cash payment is that the ration shops as such have become redundant and are facing the risk of closure.

Most fair price shops operated by the Cooperative Department have remained closed for months. The workers attached to the shops are up in arms against the new system and those employees who were not paid wages for two years fear they will be laid off. “The purpose of having fair price shops was to ensure supply of essential commodities at affordable rates than those available in the market to the poor. But because of the difference of opinion between the two Constitutional heads the whole system is now in the doldrums,” an official, on condition of anonymity, said.

‘Basic purpose lost’

“The basic spirit of PDS to help the poor is getting defeated in Puducherry because of the wrangle. There should be practical evaluation of the relevance of the scheme and strengthening of the PDS. Any contention raised out of imagination would be injurious,” says B. Jayalakshmi, a resident of Mudaliarpet.

“The supply of rice will be more useful and appropriate as cash payment, especially the head of the family would deprive the benefit if the man is a spendthrift. The PDS must be on a right path with a broad outlook,” she says.

According to C.H. Balamohan, president of the Confederation of Puducherry Government Employees’ Association, “The consistent stand of the Union government in dismantling the PDS system step by step coupled with a lack of funds has led to the present situation.

Due to paucity of funds, the workers attached to fair price shops have been going without salaries for months together. The PDS shops run by cooperative institutions like PAPSCO and PASIC have become defunct and are now in the ‘Red’ because of excessive back-door appointments.” Mr. Balamohan pointed out that major States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu had taken the stand to distribute rice from their own resources to meet the demand. But Puducherry depends upon the Centre for funds and it cannot take a rigid stand, he said.

Cardholders’ opinions

According to a spokesperson of the All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA), a survey conducted by Hope, an NGO, revealed that cardholders wanted supply of rice through fair price shops instead of payment of the equivalent in cash subsidy into their bank accounts.

The government should ensure prompt distribution of rice and other essential commodities in ration shops. The PDS should be revived and strengthened to ensure that its benefits reached the cardholders, she said.

According to AIADMK Legislature party leader A. Anbalagan, during the last three and a half years of the Congress government, rice was not distributed for 23 months.

Poor people have been made to suffer in the power struggle between the Lt. Governor and the elected government, he said.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 5:27:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/fair-price-shops-exist-only-on-paper-in-puducherry/article30428213.ece

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