The truck in which ration items was being pilfered
Rampurhat, June 12: They had been patrolling the main village road day and night for the past six months in shifts. But on all occasions, they missed their target. Not last night.
Villagers in Masra, Birbhum, last night caught a truck in which the local ration dealer was allegedly illegally transporting sacks of rice and wheat meant for BPL card-holders.
The truck, which was carrying 39 sacks of rice and 11 sacks of wheat, was seized by police. But the ration dealer, Atul Dey, managed to escape.
“We hope to arrest him at the earliest. We are conducting raids,” said Koteswara Rao, the subdivisional police officer of Rampurhat.
The villagers, mostly farmers and holders of the BPL card, alleged that the ration dealer sold the good quality rice and wheat to traders in different towns at higher rates and gave them the poor quality grain.
“The rice and wheat we seized last night are of very good quality,” said Manik Murmu, a marginal farmer.
Rice at ration shops across the state is sold at Rs 2 a kg to BPL card-holders and wheat is given to them for Rs 3 a kg.
A villager claimed that ration dealer Dey sold the rice for Rs 15 a kg to wholesalers in several towns of the district and the wheat for Rs 16.
Dey, the only ration dealer in the village, sold food and kerosene to 2,200 card-holders, 40 per cent of whom fall below the poverty line.
Asked what prompted the villagers to suspect that Dey was selling the good quality rice and wheat to traders in towns, farmer Sukhen Mondal said: “He amassed significant wealth in the past few years and bought a vehicle. Are these possible by selling just rice and wheat and getting a commission from the government? We often found trucks standing outside his shop in the middle of the night and some people loading sacks onto it. We discussed among ourselves and concluded that he was employing illegal ways to augment his income.”
Mondal said repeated complaints to food department officials in the district fell on deaf ears. “We had to catch him red-handed.”
So the villagers divided themselves into groups last December and patrolled the roads at night. “Although we saw the trucks, we failed to stop them on several occasions. Then, they changed their timings and the goods were transported in the day, when most of us were in the fields,” Mondal said.
Last night, a group of four villagers on patrolling saw a truck outside the ration shop around 10.30. One of the four informed Mondal, who gathered around 500 villagers.
Before the truck could start, it was surrounded by the residents.
The driver and the helper managed to escape.