22 February 2013
statesman news service
KOLKATA, 22 FEB: The government's monitoring of the public distribution system continues to fall well short of what is required to stop corruption and leakage, food activists said today, indicating they intend to step up their role in oversight of the food system.
More than 100 food rights activists, under the aegis of the Right to Food and Work Network West Bengal, met today at Khadya Bhavan to discuss the difficulties they have faced trying to keep an eye on their entitlements, Mr Saradindu Biswas, state convener of the network, said in a statement.
The monitoring and vigilance committees which were started on paper by the Left Front government after the months of food-related riots in 2007, and taken up again by the Trinamul Congress government after they came to power are still not working properly, the activists said. Some haven't been set up, others don't meet.
Mr Biswas also said they had concerns about whether the promising new SMS alert system ~ meant to give consumers details about their allotments ~ that the government is putting in place will work, given reports that the department is relying on ration dealers for the names and contact details of consumers. "If this is done, the service is bound to fail, as the person responsible for the theft is being asked to appoint the people to catch him," he said.
Mr Gopinath Mukherjee, special secretary at the state Food Department, said there are problems with the way the committees are set up. "We are not satisfied," he said. "A few committees are yet to be formed and some are not functioning well, that is a fact." He said that part of the reason there are problems is because the committees are made up of volunteers. The Food Department is looking at where the gaps are, though. "If required, we will modify the order (relating to the committees), according to the needs of the area."
Ms Anuradha Talwar, an activist and state advisor to the Supreme Court on the Right to Food, said there are legal provisions for the public to audit the public distribution system with, or without, the government's help. A 2002 Supreme Court order allows Gram Sabhas to carry out social audits of food-related schemes, and report to the authorities who have to look into the complaints, for example. Activists intend to make full use of these provisions, she said.