Food cards in debt jaws

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By GAUTAM SARKAR
  • Published 7.11.04
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Nonihat (Dumka), Nov. 7: Poverty alleviation in Santhal Parganas will always remain mired in a vicious debt-trap.

The poor man?s passport to food has become the latest tool of exploitation.

Instead of availing foodgrain and kerosene oil from the public distribution system outlets, villagers are mortgaging their red cards (below poverty line cards) to money-lenders to borrow paltry sums.

Arjun Chalak, a resident of Champatari village in Nonihat under Jarmundi block in the district, could not avail of a scheme to build a government-sponsored toilet for a token amount of Rs 50 because he could not produce his red card.

Chalak, whose income is less than Rs 1,000 per month, had deposited his card with a mahajan (moneylender) for Rs 30 a couple of months ago.

?I gave him the card as I required Rs 30 for my daughter?s treatment and I am yet to return the money to him. I did not show the card to the officials concerned,? he said.

Chalak?s is not an isolated case. The practice is common to the tribal heartland. Many poor people like Chalak deposit their BPL cards to money-lenders for paltry amounts. A local non-government organisation, Biota, assigned to conduct a survey of people living below the poverty line for the low-cost toilet scheme brought to light the ?multi-utility? of the cards.

Members of the organisation expressed concern over the deep-rooted poverty and exploitation in the region. ?Earlier, people used to mortgage their property either with banks or their ornaments and valuables to moneylenders. But now for small amounts like Rs 20 to Rs 40, BPL cards are being used as credit cards,? said a member of the organisation.

Haradhan Chalak, who had also mortgaged his red card for Rs 40, recently managed to get it back after paying the amount. ?I had to pay an interest of Rs 80 and got it back after a year,? he said.

Similarly, Bipad Chalak had to sell his ox to get his card back. The local block development officer was not available for comment, but the block office employees said the mahajans lift foodgrain and kerosene oil with the mortgaged cards. Devendar Kuwar, BJP legislator from Jarmundi segment, however, denied any such practice.

But local JMM leader Abhay Singh said, ?People have no use of the red cards as most of the PDS outlets are closed. The corrupt system has forced them to misuse their cards.?