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Babus in boiling rice pot
- Villagers scream for ration thieves’ punishment

Durgapur, Sept. 19: Villagers today surrounded a convoy of food department officials from Calcutta, banged at their cars with clenched fists and demanded immediate punishment for corrupt ration dealers.

The government team travelled to villages in Borjora and Sonamukhi in Bankura to probe the ration rage.

Food department joint secretary Gopinath Mukherjee and deputy director Sukhendu Chakraborty tried in vain to tell the residents of Hatasuria that they had come to look into the villagers’ problems. A mobile police patrol unit rescued them.

“They were slightly mobbed, but we were prompt,” district magistrate Surendra Gupta said.

The duo from Calcutta, district food department officials and Bankura subdivisional officer Shyamasish Roy arrived at Kotalpukur around 10am.

A ration dealer and his son had shot at a group of people demanding foodgrain in the village on Sunday.

As the officers inspected Narayan Dutta’s shop, which had been looted, farmer Shibu Ruidas, 38, asked: “Sir, what are you looking for'”

Mukherjee stepped out of the ground floor shop and started speaking to the villagers. “Do you get wheat and kerosene from this shop'”

“No, Dutta said there was no supply,” the villagers screamed in unison.

“Do you know how much grain or kerosene you are supposed to get every week'”

No was the answer again.

“We got bullets from the dealer when we demanded rice and wheat,” said Manoj Ruidas, 30, an unemployed youth.

Like Dutta, Fazal Haque Mullick of Chandai Bagan village had told villagers that the government had stopped supplying everything but kerose-ne. When villagers stormed his house on Monday, sacks of rice and wheat were found in a storeroom. They were looted.

“This is only the first day of our investigation. After visiting several villages, we have realised that most people are unaware of what they are supposed to get from a ration shop,” Mukherjee said.

He admitted negligence on the part of the department: that the monitoring system had virtually collapsed.

“There were faults on our part. I’ll submit a report along with suggestions to the government for a permanent solution to the crisis,” Mukherjee added.

At Narayansundari and Balarampur villages in Manik Bazaar, many, like Bidesh Mal, 30, a labourer and Shital Sardar, 35, a farmer, recalled how the ration shop owner had bluffed villagers for months.

Twenty-six ration dealers have been suspended over the past month, the district magistrate said.

The ration dealers’ association has sought security from the administration.

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