People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 44

November 04, 2007

PDS To Be Further Strengthened In Bengal: Biman Basu


The monitoring system of Public Distribution System (PDS) will be further strengthened in West Bengal to ensure that the lacunae in the system are removed. It will also be made more transparent so that there is no more scope for the few errant ration dealers to indulge in malpractices.


This was stated by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and West Bengal state secretary Biman Basu in an interview to People's Democracy on October 28. He was in New Delhi to attend the Party tribal sub-committee meeting.


Biman Basu attacked the opposition parties in Bengal, particularly Trinamul Congress and Pradesh Congress, for playing a bad role in trying to disrupt the PDS in the state by resort to vandalism. He asserted that the people of the state have seen through this gameplan and are in the forefront of defence of PDS.


Below are excerpts of the interview.


(Q) The recent happenings in Bengal relating to vandalisation of PDS ration shops have been depicted by the national media as “spontaneous and widespread food riots”. What is the reality and how did this situation arise?


Biman Basu: Actually the trouble with ration dealers began when Above Poverty Line (APL) card holders went to the ration shops to draw their wheat after a long gap of 11 months. During these last 11 months they had not drawn a single grain of wheat from the ration shops because the price of PDS wheat was higher than that being sold in open market. But recently due to scarcity of wheat, its price shot up in the open market. So the APL cardholders rushed to the ration shops and demanded their last eleven months quota of wheat. Many ration shop owners could not supply this amount of wheat. Some of them had sold the unavailed wheat quota in the open market earlier and the argument they gave was that if they did not exhaust the stocks, their allocations would get reduced. There was also the problem of storage. But this argument cannot be dubbed as a fair one. However no single dealer can be expected to supply 11 months quota of wheat at once. It is a fact that if cardholders wanted to buy their quota of wheat for that particular week, the dealers should have supplied. In some places even this did not happen. Therefore the APL cardholders were agitated and trouble began at few places.


(Q) How did the problem spread and what has been the role of opposition parties in this?


Biman Basu: Although the APL cardholders were agitated about not getting their full quota the way vandalisation of ration shops took place in different areas it was clear there was a planned effort by opposition parties, particularly Trinamul Congress, Pradesh Congress and other opposition to create anarchic situation and derail PDS in the state. In certain districts, things took an ugly turn. But these cannot be dubbed as “food riots” as the Congress party at centre did or as the Trinamul Congress chief called for “food movement” in the state. The design of the opposition was to disrupt the PDS as a whole in the state. Overall the role of the opposition parties on this issue has been very bad.


Another aspect of the situation was the role played by electronic media. It was seen in many places the TV crews were instructing the agitated cardholders to vandalise the shops and set fire to them, all the time promising to show them on TV. It is really unfortunate that the media persons were also involved in this affair.


We have discussed these things in the Left Front and suggested to the state government to conduct all party meetings in district and sub-divisional level on this issue. The recommendations of these meetings must be taken into account to resolve the present impasse.


(Q) What are the other factors responsible for creation of such a situation? What part has the centre's negative attitude to PDS played in this?


Biman Basu: The Public Distribution System is continuing in Bengal for a long time. The Left Front government had decided to monitor the implementation of PDS at sub-divisional level and for this local panchayat bodies were involved. Three persons from pachayat bodies and one woman belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL) category were to be part of the committee. But this monitoring system did not work properly and in many places such committees were not even formed.


Another aspect was the issue of drastic reduction of central quota of supplies for West Bengal. Until 2006-07, the quantum of rice allocated by the union government to Bengal for the APL category was 2,28,928 MT per month. From April 2007, however, the amount was cut to just 7,700 MT per month. With district allocations falling to a mere 20 to 30 MT of rice per month, many ration dealers were reluctant even to lift their quotas fearing the worse from the consumers. The union government was approached in May of this year for increase of rice allocation to at least one lakh MT per month — to no avail. For wheat, it has been a similar tale. Here the allocation per month for Bengal was decreased from 1,02,229 MT to 49,040 MT per month. The distribution figure translates per head per week to an absurd 250 grams!


In fact, if we go back into history it is seen that at the time of independence, an agreement was reached with the central government regarding ensuring food supplies to Bengal. This was necessitated because with partition all the jute growing areas went to what is now Bangladesh while the jute mills were predominantly in Bengal. This created a situation where to ensure the running of these mills it was decided to shift a certain extent of paddy and wheat crops to jute. The government of India assured to supply the deficit incurred due to the shift to jute crops. However this has not been adhered to by the central government. Many times in the past the government of West Bengal wrote to the centre reminding it of this commitment but to no avail.


Last but not least there are some black sheep among the ration dealers, just like there are in any other profession. Some of them tried to take advantage of the situation. But that should not lead to branding the entire lot of ration dealers as corrupt and wrong-doers. The state government has already cancelled the licenses of 163 ration dealers for indulging in corruption (see accompanying below).


Enforcement activities against unscrupulous ration dealers














Oil dealers




Oil agents







(Q) What are the measures taken by the Party and the Left Front government in dealing with the situation?


Biman Basu: Despite many odds, the Public Distribution System is being maintained in Bengal and this is not liked by reactionary forces and opposition. They want to disrupt the system as a whole. The Party has taken steps to alert the people of this danger through mass campaign. The people are consciously coming forward to stop this vandalism. In some places the looted rice and wheat has been collected from the looters and deposited back with the shops for distribution. Now these efforts have to be spread across the state.


As for the government, it has taken serious note of this issue. A meeting was held by the chief minister with the food minister, panchayat minister and finance minister and took important decisions regarding strengthening the monitoring system – both at state level and at the ground level -- of PDS and making it more transparent for consumers. There will be a public display of the quantum of allocations received by the ration shops. Apart from strengthening the monitoring system, it has been decided that over a period of time all ration cards shall be replaced with the photo identity cards of the voters’ list. This is to be made to help curb proliferation of spurious ration cards. In any case, all ration cards must be kept with the card holders and not handed over to ration shops.


With the people of the state conscious of the need to defend and strengthen the PDS, these efforts of the government will yield result.