Distribution of dry ration kits gets mired in controversy

There have been complaints of poor quality foodgrains, bought at a higher cost, reaching beneficiaries.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The State’s initiative to distribute dry ration kits to migrant construction workers at a cost of over ₹31 crore as part of lockdown relief has run into rough weather. While there are instances of legislators misusing the welfare measure to bolster their own image, there are also complaints of poor quality foodgrains, bought at a higher cost, reaching beneficiaries.

The government has started distribution of kits costing ₹823 each containing 10 grocery items. This was after a nudge from the Supreme Court, High Court of Karnataka, and Karnataka Legal Services Authority which asked the government to ensure there are no hunger deaths.

‘Unfit for consumption’

As the kits have started reaching people, reports of poor quality grain being provided are emerging. “Many workers to whom we distributed kits in Bommanahalli area have complained that foodgrains are unfit for consumption,” Lingaraju, CITU district secretary, said.

Across unions, members claimed that the best quality foodgrains were available in the open market for about ₹650. “Retail price of what is being distributed by the government has been estimated to be about ₹530,” said Mr. Lingaraju. However, Labour Commissioner and Chairman of the Karnataka Construction Workers Welfare Board Akram Pasha said ₹823 per kit had been approved by the Finance Ministry.

About 3.8 lakh kits, costing ₹31.27 crore to the Karnataka Construction Workers Welfare Fund, are to be distributed across the State, and about 1.2 lakh kits have been distributed already, Labour Department sources confirmed.

The unions, in a meeting on June 9 with Labour Minister A. Shivaram Hebbar, opposed the very idea of providing ration kits at this point and also questioned distribution method.

They had, instead, sought ₹10,000 per month for three months starting from May for workers through direct benefit transfer. The cash bailout, the unions argued, would also spur the demand in the economy. Many felt it was too late in the day to distribute foodgrains since lockdown has been lifted.

Sources in the department said that about 2 lakh kits were being distributed in Bengaluru through legislators, an issue unions have flagged. “The government is committed to providing 54,640 kits to be distributed through 13 trade unions. Even half of these have not been given yet,” said Muniraju Shamanna, AITUC Bengaluru district vice-president who took part in the June 9 meeting.

Benefit to voters

“We had put forth our condition not to involve legislators in the distribution, which was not agreed to by the government. The result is that most of the beneficiaries are voters of these legislators,” Karnataka State Building and Other Construction Workers Federation general secretary K. Mahantesh said. For unions such as INTUC, the assured food kits of about 10,000 are yet to reach, union president S.S. Prakasham rued.

However, a senior official justified the involvement of legislators saying that the kits have been given to only those in whose constituencies large clusters of migrant workers are found. He, however, admitted it was difficult to ascertain if the kits given were the same as those given by the department since legislators were also distributing ration on their own.

Mr. Pasha said that though legislators were involved, only registered workers will get kits. He said of about 7 lakh registered workers, 3.8 lakh would get benefits.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 7:57:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/distribution-of-dry-ration-kits-gets-mired-in-controversy/article34955877.ece

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