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Bloc minister in ration dock

Calcutta, Oct. 8: Food department officials today blamed minister Paresh Adhikary for the ration crisis even as the Forward Bloc leader confessed that he had “underestimated the gravity of the situation”.

The Centre’s decision to slash the state’s quota of wheat from 1.3 lakh tonnes to 50,000 tonnes and that of rice from 2.3 lakh tonnes to 7,700 tonnes in April was partly responsible for the situation, an official said.

“Our dealers, who sell in the black market foodgrain that people living above the po- verty line do not buy, stopped selling them altogether taking advantage of the cut. But instead of addressing the problems at home, the minister was busy lobbying Delhi to restore the quota,” the official alleged.

The crackdown on corrupt ration dealers that has started after violent protests across south Bengal should have started long ago, he added.

Adhikary said he did not know that the wheat and rice not collected by many of the five crore people above the poverty line had entered the black market. “I thought the crisis would end if the Centre could be persuaded to increase our quota. But there was a sudden demand for foodgrain from people above the poverty line. I underestimated the gravity of the situation.”

Officials accused him of dozing after villagers roughed up a ration dealer at Onda in Bankura on September 7 for selling wheat and rice in the black market. An official said: “He is now calling all-party meetings at the grassroots and involving block development officers and police and food department officials.”

Adhikary said he had taken action after the Onda incident. He had apparently asked the Bankura district magistrate to “take serious note of it and arrest those involved in thrashing the ration dealer”.

Action, CPM leaders said, should have been taken against the dealer. District party secretary Amiya Patra alleged that the minister “did nothing about food inspectors who collude with dealers and help them smuggle foodgrain”.

Adhikary’s party is also not happy. “He spends more time in Mekhligunj, his constituency, than in his office,” a senior Bloc leader said.

The state CPM leadership, which has borne the brunt of criticism from the Bloc and other Left Front partners over Singur and Nandigram, has, however, refrained from putting the ally in the dock.

The food portfolio has been with the Bloc since the front came to power in 1977, unlike higher education or commerce and industries, which were taken over by the CPM.

Commerce and industries is crucial to the CPM’s development agenda. In contrast, the food department has not drawn the party’s attention.

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