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State accused of manipulating food scheme

Food for the poor is being profiteered, say Jesuit activists reporter, Ahmedabad

January 31, 2013

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Food meant for poor villagers in Gujarat is being siphoned off through the state government's own food distribution system, leaving the people with inferior quality produce, say a group of campaigners.

Grains and other staple foods, intended for people living below the poverty line, are sold through the government's own Fair Price Shops, which receive them from its public distribution system.

Eleven Jesuit organizations in the state, in collaboration with the Jesuits in Social Action welfare group, have investigated the scheme through their Right to Food campaign which they launched two years ago. In that time, they have conducted field studies, seminars, rallies and public meetings, making people aware of their right to decent food.

So far they have covered 900 villages across the state. The campaign's managers told on January 30 that in more than 75 per cent of the villages covered, people complained about the poor quality of food they receive.

Villagers also told them that most Fair Price Shops open for only one or two days a month, though they should remain open for six days a week.

Frequently, customers are told that supplies have run out and they will have to wait till fresh stocks arrive. But it is widely suspected that shopkeepers siphon off the subsidized food and sell it at a profit on the open market.

Jesuit Father Xavier Manjooran of Rajpipila Social Service Society (RSSS) , a campaign collaborator, said there are "a lot of mafias involved in the public distribution system, preventing it from operating properly."

Father Stany Pinto of Adivasi Kheti Yojana, based at Bhiloda, said that people needed to be told that the rations they receive through the scheme are their right, not a favor from the government.

In the course of their investigation, the campaigners found that 78 per cent of the shops did not have their stock register updated and stock records displayed as regulations demand.

The suspect dealings spread to non-food items. Over 75 percent of the villagers surveyed said they do not get their quota of kerosene regularly but have to buy it at a higher price at other shops.

The campaigners, however, concede that there is "very little margin" for FPS operators and hence they resort to malpractice and corruption.

According to most researchers, Gujarat is a highly food insecure state. The government's own report shows a statewide under-nutrition rate of 47 percent, despite claims that it is India's fastest growing industrial center.

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