PDS `mafia' trying to gag info seekers

NEW DELHI OCT. 10. Non-government organisations helping people gather facts on the public distribution system are facing stiff resistance from officials of the Food and Supplies Department in the Capital.

It all began when a few NGOs joined hands recently to expose "unscrupulous" ration dealers who divert the government supplies to open market at higher rates, ignoring their customers. In a bid to get data on food distribution, these NGOs, including Parivartan, motivated over 150 customers across the Capital to file applications to the Food and Supplies Department on August 29. Interestingly, the idea about getting information through applications came from a woman named Triveni, an Antodaya Card holder, who had not been getting supplies from her ration shop. Days after she applied for details about that shop, she started getting supplies on time.

On September 23, some applicants were called to the Nandnagri Food and Supplies Department office for gathering the desired documents. Accompanied by two Parivartan activists, the applicants reached there but were taken aback to see that almost 35 ration dealers of the area were already having tea outside the office. The ration dealers, including a local leader, attacked the applicants and the Parivartan activists. The ration shopkeepers even gheraoed the police station where the activists went to lodge a complaint. The police registered a case naming two of the assailants, but no arrests have been made so far.

Panini Anand of Parivartan said NGOs were facing such resistance all across the city. A few days ago, a resident of Yamuna Vihar, who had filed an application, was offered Rs. 40,000. In another case on September 22, an applicant was offered Rs. 20,000 by a ration dealer of the area. Such incidents are being reported from Harsh Vihar and other pockets as well. "It is hard to believe that not only ration dealers, but also food supplies officers are requesting customers not to file applications. The ration dealers know it quite well that they can be put behind bars if they are found diverting more than 100 kg a month. As per a recent Supreme Court ruling, the license of a ration dealer will be revoked if he is found not giving supplies in time," said Anand. He said those not yielding to their offers were being threatened with dire consequences.

Anand said the real problem was with the functioning of the distribution system. "The Government offers very small commission to the ration dealers and they can't even pay their expenses, including telephone and electricity bills. Hence, they divert the supplies to earn more. Now, it has gone to the hands of the mafia, including local politicians, who easily procure licenses against the names of their own men."