Beneficiaries voice discontentment over alleged mismanagement in NFSA-PMGKAY rice distribution

Instances of beneficiaries refusing to accept rice when agents allegedly tried to distribute in lesser quantities cropped up in almost all districts of Manipur. Several beneficiaries from different districts have urged the authorities concerned to look into the alleged irregularities in the distribution of rice.


(Representational Image: Unsplash)

 

Amid the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic in Manipur, there has been a rise in public discontentment and reports of alleged mismanagement in distribution of rice under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA) and the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY).

The beneficiaries have been raising complaints that they are being given lesser quantity of rice by their agents. They have also rejected the rice amount provided to them in a show of protest.

In an incident, an agent running a Fair Price Shop at Kshetri Awang Leikai under Kshetrigao assembly constituency of Imphal East made the announcement to the beneficiaries of the area to come and collect the rice amount but they declined it, alleging they were not given the right quantity of rice under the PMGKAY.

One of the beneficiaries, a widow by the name Pemma, told this Imphal Free Press reporter that they went to meet the Fair Price Shop agent and requested distribution of full entitled amount of rice to every beneficiary. But the agent allegedly refused, saying that the MLA of the assembly constituency had instructed to distribute only 4 kg rice per person, and he could not go against the MLA's will.

The agent also reminded them that only those beneficiaries who have their Aadhaar linked will be given rice while those who have not linked will not receive them.

When the Meira Paibis (an exclusive women's group) of Kshetri Awang Leikai went together to demand that the rice be distributed regardless of Aadhaar linking to all beneficiaries under the NFSA and the PMGKAY, an argument ensued during which the agent allegedly told the meira paibi team that they were not the ones running the show, and even mockingly dared them to take charge of the distribution work, said Pemma.

For May-June 2021, only a few beneficiaries took the rice distributed as per the quantity set by the agent. Majority of the remaining beneficiaries are yet to collect their share of rice, she added.

Further investigation by the Imphal Free Press into the distribution of rice in other districts found the same issue of less quantity of rice being distributed to the beneficiaries.

Recently, according to reports, the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (CAFPD) released 93007.95 quintals of rice for distribution to all ration card holders covered under the NFSA and the PMGKAY for the month of May and June 2021. The rice should be distributed free of cost – 5 kg per person per month - to all beneficiaries under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) (AAY, PHH and DBT) in addition to the normal rice to be distributed under the NFSA, 2013.

Instances of beneficiaries refusing to accept rice when agents allegedly tried to distribute in lesser quantities cropped up in almost all districts of Manipur. Several beneficiaries from different districts have urged the authorities concerned to look into the alleged irregularities in the distribution of rice.

They have urged the authorities concerned to ensure distribution of full quantity of rice, considering the hardships being faced by the people amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many local dailies have covered the issue.

It may be mentioned that NFSA is an ongoing regular scheme implemented in Manipur since 2016 and the PMGKAY is a special intervention of the Central government to alleviate the hardship of the people during the COVID pandemic. Under the NFSA, AAY households irrespective of the number of family members are entitled to receive 35 kg of rice per month and all PHH beneficiaries are to receive five kg of rice per person per month at Rs 3 per kg which is to be borne by the beneficiaries.

While under the PMGKAY, ration card holders or beneficiaries under NFSA will be provided additional rice at five kg per person per month ‘free of cost’ for May and June 2021 over and above their monthly NFSA quota.

According to a release issued by the Directorate of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Manipur, for all 16 districts of Manipur, there are a total of 1,76,699 AAY beneficiaries, 16,83,460 PHH beneficiaries in total 18,60,159 beneficiaries. And the quantity of rice under PMGKAY for May and June 2021 is 8834.95 for AAY and 84,173 for PHH, in total 93007.95.

The quantity of rice for each district has been provided and it should be lifted by the district authorities through transport contractors appointed by the CAF and PD department which should be solely responsible for the sale transportation of the entire quantity of PMGKAY rice from the Food Corporation of India depot to respective Fair Price Shop of the districts of Manipur within the validity period whichever is earlier, the release stated. 

Here, it may be mentioned that fair price shop owners may appropriately draw out distribution plans at the local level in consultation with beneficiaries for distribution of rice under the supervision of DSOs as per the Directorate.

The Directorate also notified that under the existing system of public distribution system, district supply officers and civil supply inspectors of CAFPD should conduct regular inspections of the shops to ensure that fair price shops under their respective jurisdiction are operating strictly, if any default is found then CAFPD will take action. Further, DSOs are required to submit a daily monitoring report on lifting and distribution of rice under NFSA and PMGKAY to the director of CAFPD, Manipur.

As per operational guidelines and rules framed under the NFSA, MLAs have no roles in lifting and distributing rice under the NFSA and the PMGKAY. Further, no obligations are assigned to the local MLAs by the Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution department for effective distribution of rice to the beneficiaries. However, in actual practice, the MLAs and their nominees play major roles in lifting and distribution of rice to the beneficiaries for the reasons best known to them.

In connection with the rising issues concerning distribution of less quantity of rice and the involvement of MLAs in the distribution, one Wahengbam Joykumar, a social activist working under different organizations, filed a representation to various authorities for taking up action against the erring MLAs, their nominees and fair price shop agents, who were involved in the alleged non distribution of fixed quantity of PMGKAY rice to bonafide ration card holders.

However, no tangible action has so far been taken, thereby giving free hand to fair price shops. Therefore, in the interest of the public, he filed a petition before the High Court of Manipur on the issue.

Joykumar’s petition stated that while distributing the PMGKAY rice to the beneficiaries, the fair price shops did not distribute the rice in accordance with the norms prescribed by the authority and instead distributed three or four kg of rice per person, and that too the rice was measured using a tin-can in different places. In other words, the quantity of rice is not measured by using a weighing machine and instead using a tin can, which is illegal and untenable.

When questioned, most of the Fair Price Shop agents allegedly replied that they were instructed by the MLA or their nominees to distribute three-four kg of rice and they are simply following their instructions.

The petition stated that MLAs or Fair Price Shops have no authority or power to reduce the quantity of PMGKAY rice from 5 kg per person to 3-4 kg per person. Such an act of distributing less amount of PMGKAY rice would amount to an offence of Criminal Breach of trust, which is punishable under section 409 IPC, it stated.

Further, the MLAs/nominees/ Fair Price Shops have no authority to distribute PMGKAY rice to the persons, who have no valid ration card (PHH card or AAY card), the petition stated.

“Thus, MLAs can distribute rice to the persons, who have no ration cards, after procuring rice from different source in order to minimise the sufferings of common peoples, but have no authority to distribute rice less than the prescribed quantity by saying that they require to distribute the same to the person, who have no valid ration card. MLAs are supposed to be generous and always follow the prescribed Act and rules and they cannot supplant the rules for his own benefits,” the petition stated.

Joykumar said that he found several reports in the newspapers as well as in social media platforms from time to time about non-distribution of the correct quantity of PMGKAY rice in Kakching district, Lamlai, Imphal East district, Kasom Khullen, Ukhrul district, Lamsang, Uripok, Imphal West district.

Despite all the hue and cry over the alleged misappropriation of PMGKAY rice at different places in Manipur, the officials such as DSOs/ADs and civil supply Inspectors, who are responsible for insuring distribution of PMGKAY rice at its correct scale to the bonafide beneficiaries miserably failed to conduct inspection of Fair Price Shops at their respective jurisdictions, he said.

Had they conducted regular monitoring and inspection of Fair Price Shops and inquired into the complaints lodged from different quarters, a large chunk of Fair Price Shop agents would be put behind bars for their act of committing criminal breach of trust, he said. However, no one has so far been punished till date. In other words, no action is taken against those wrong doers.

He said unless corrective measures are taken up at the earliest, such malady of distribution of less quantity of PMGKAY would spread to remaining parts of Manipur, where PMGKAY rice for the month of May and June is going to be distributed. MLAs should understand that they have no authority to issue directions to the Fair Price Shops to reduce the prescribed quantity of rice and to distribute the PMGKAY rice to the persons who have no valid ration card under any circumstances.

It may also be mentioned that on May 24, 2021, the Supreme Court of India ordered that migrant workers wherever stranded throughout the country should be provided dry ration under the Atma Nirbhar Scheme or any other scheme found suitable by the states/Centre. Consequently, on May 25, 2021, the Government of India directed almost all states in the country, including the state of Manipur to obtain additional requirements of food grains needed for providing dry ration to other migrants/stranded migrants as per accessed requirements. However, no such distribution of dry ration to the migrant workers is done in accordance with the direction issued by the Supreme Court of India till date.

On June 7, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation announced that the Government of India has decided to extend the distribution of food grain under PMGKAY up to the month of November 2021. The Government of India will bear the entire cost on account of such distribution, including food subsidy, intra-state transportation and dealer’s margin/additional dealers margin, without any sharing by states/UTs as per the announcement.

It was announced that the Government of India has sensitized all the states / UT governments to complete the distribution of free food grains under the PMGKAY in a time bound manner. As per the announcement, the PMGKAY is facilitating supply of free food grains to the beneficiaries amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and thus providing food security to the beneficiaries. It was also announced that the PMGKAY is to ameliorate the hardship faced by the poor due to economic disruption caused by Coronavirus. Under the scheme, free food grains at 5 kg per person per month are being distributed to beneficiaries covered under the NFSA.

Joykumar’s petition stated that under the existing norms of supervision of PDS rice distribution, district supply officers and civil supply inspectors of CAFPD working under the district administration shall conduct regular inspections of the shops to ensure that FPS Agents under their respective jurisdiction are distributing the correct quantity of rice to genuine beneficiaries possessing valid ration cards within the framework of the NFSA and the PMGKAY.

However, in the reported cases, no district supply officers and civil supply inspectors performed their assigned duty of inspection at the Fair Price Shops to ascertain as to whether the quantity of rice is correctly distributed using a weighing machine or not, he stated. Therefore, no Fair Price Shop agents, who are involved in distributing less quantity of PMGKAY rice, have been reprimanded till date, he added.

He prayed to the High Court of Manipur for ensuring monthly distribution of 5 kg PMGKAY rice per person per month to all ration card holders through Fair Price Shops under NFSA without any interference from any quarter. He prayed the High Court to ensure that authorities concerned conduct compulsory inspection of Fair Price Shops at the time of distributing PMGKAY rice to the beneficiaries through district supply officers and civil supply inspectors and to submit the inspection reports to the Court for monitoring the distribution system periodically.

The petition was taken up before Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice Kh Nobin on Tuesday. The court has directed the state authorities to address the issue as to what steps have been taken pursuant to the order passed on May 13, 2020 in relation to identical issues which were raised in connection with distribution of rice under the Central government scheme during the first wave of the Covid pandemic.

Further, the court has fixed July 17 for further hearing and replies to be submitted from the state of Manipur through secretary of CAF and PD, Manipur; director of Department of CAF and PD and the Union of India through the secretary of the Ministry of CAFPD.

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First Published:June 17, 2021, 6:58 p.m.

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