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Trucker nod to carry rice

Raiganj, Dec. 19: Some truck owners today agreed to transport rice lying in godowns here after declining to do so for four months because they did not want to risk running their vehicles on the potholed NH34.

The local truck syndicate could not tell how many vehicles would be available, but state food department officials said they expected the first consignment of rice would be transported to Jhargram, West Midnapore, next week.

The December 19 Metro edition had reported how the cratered highway was holding back the truck syndicate from allowing vehicles to travel to North 24-Parganas, West Midnapore and Islampur in North Dinajpur, fearing the vehicles would break down.

In all, 24,000 tonnes of rice, meant for BPL scheme beneficiaries, have been lying for four months in one state godown and eight private ones. Some of the rice is worm-infested.

The NH34, one of the key highways of the state and the one that connects north Bengal to the rest of the state, has not seen repairs in the last two years.

On Monday night, trucks broke down at six places on NH34, causing a pile-up that took almost an entire day to ease.

Today, Samir Kumar Mondal, the district food controller, said samples of rice had been collected by the food department’s quality control cell. “A team from our quality control cell came to the godowns for an inspection and collected rice samples. They have said some quantity has been spoilt but a bulk of the consignment can be saved with the help of chemicals,” Mondal said.

He did not say what quantity of rice had been eaten by weevils, a kind of beetle that feeds on rice and lays eggs in the grain, making it inedible.

He said the good rice would be separated from the weevil-infested grain and would be sent to Jhargram.

A food department source said the quantity of rice to be transported to West Midnapore may be lesser than the 6,000 tonnes that was the requirement.

Mondal said: “We have renewed our request to the truck owners to transport the rice as soon as possible. They have assured us that they will begin transporting the grain to West Midnapore, North 24-Parganas and Islampur. We are hopeful that the rice for West Midnapore and North 24-Parganas would be dispatched next week.”

Tuhin Majumdar, the general secretary of the Raiganj Truck Owners’ Syndicate, said: “We are willing to take the risk of transporting the grain but right now I cannot say how many trucks can be made available.”

Tanker aflame

Traffic on NH31 came to a halt for three hours on Thursday afternoon after a diesel-filled tanker overturned and caught fire near Islampur while trying to avoid hitting an oncoming vehicle.

The driver and helper jumped out. The blaze was put out by two fire engines.