Women harvest rice in Madhya Pradesh state. (Photo: ruralmarketing.in)
A Catholic archbishop has sought action against officials responsible for distributing unusable food grains through government-run fair-price shops in central India's Madhya Pradesh state.
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, based in the state capital, demanded action after a federal government report said that rice grains distributed in tribal-dominated districts of Mandla and Balaghat were "unfit for human consumption."
"I am shocked to learn that the government system has distributed food grains totally unfit for human consumption. It is distressing that it is done to poor people who are increasingly dependent on the government for their food, especially in these times of pandemic," said Archbishop Cornelio.
The federal Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution said its teams collected 32 samples of food grains for tests. Records showed the rice stocks were procured from mills between May and July this year for distribution.
But the stocks were old recycled supplies and the gunny bags used for storing them were also at least two to three years old, the federal report said.
"The stocks are found to be unfit for human consumption," it said.
The government distributes raw food grains such as rice and wheat through its public distribution system at below market price to help fight poverty.
A racket involving fair-price managers, bureaucrats, middle men and politicians arranges for rotten and discarded grains to be distributed in shops and pockets the money meant to buy quality grains.
"The rice scam is not limited to Balaghat and Mandla districts. This stretches to several districts and is connected to the higher-ups," said the state's former chief minister Kamal Nath in a Twitter message. He demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The state government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said it was already inspecting stocks across the state. A government spokesperson told media that the guilty would be punished.
Archbishop Cornelio told UCA News on Sept. 6 that this scam will have a direct bearing on the lives of millions of poor people in the state.
He said it was "a serious case" for Madhya Pradesh, where some 40 percent of its 71 million people live below the poverty line — not having enough money for a square meal a day.
"If such substandard food grain is supplied, it will endanger the health of close to half of the state's population," the archbishop said.
The government must initiate action against all those behind this scam, he said.
"Such crimes happen because of misplaced priorities. Unless we love and respect human life, this kind of correction cannot be rooted out from society," Archbishop Cornelio said.The prelate urged everyone to respect human life and protect it as a tribute to God, who created us.