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Soul-search fails to douse ration rage
- Minister in dock for mess

Calcutta, Oct. 8: Food department officials today blamed Forward Bloc minister Paresh Adhikary for the crisis in the rationing system and he pleaded guilty of “underestimating the gravity of the situation”.

The Centre slashed Bengal’s quota of wheat from 1 lakh tonnes to 50,000 tonnes and that of rice from 2.3 lakh tonnes to 7,700 tonnes in April.

“Our dealers, who sell in the black market foodgrain that people living above poverty line do not take from ration shops, stopped selling them altogether taking advantage of the Centre’s decision. But instead of addressing the problems at home, the minister was busy lobbying Delhi to increase the quota,” an 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 poverty line 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 poverty line. I underestimated the gravity of the situation,” the minister said.

Officials accused him of dozing after villagers roughed up a ration dealer at Onda in Bankura on September 7 for allegedly selling what and rice in the black market. “The minister is now calling for all-party meetings at the grassroots, involving the block development officers and police and food department officials. It might be too late now.”

Adhikary denied not doing anything 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 unhappy. “He spends more time in his constituency, Mekhligunj, than in 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, unlike higher education or commerce and industries, which were taken over by the CPM. Commerce and industries is crucial to the CPM’s growth agenda, while the food department has not drawn its attention despite its corruption and inefficiency.

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