Raids on eateries reveal leakages in public distribution system

Guwahati, Oct 21 : Barely a week after food and civil supplies minister Nazrul Islam admitted to leakages in the public distribution system (PDS) in Assam, food grains subsidised for the poor are popping up in eateries. Since Monday night, police in eastern Assam raided a couple of dhabas or roadside eateries and seized 250 quintals of rice, 28 quintals of wheat and six quintals of sugar. These commodities earmarked for fair price shops under PDS were diverted from FCI warehouses.

“We caught one Sanjib Barua for hoarding the PDS possibly for sale and use in the dhaba,” said Debasish Sarma, additional superintendent of police, Dibrugarh district.

He did not rule out more raids on eateries and other illegal users of PDS commodities.

Following these raids, officials in districts bordering Bangladesh have also been asked to step up vigil. PDS kerosene, rice and sugar besides other essentials are reportedly smuggled out to Bangladesh in country boats on a regular basis.

The “dhaba discovery” has left food and civil supplies minister Nazrul Islam red-faced. Islam has been under fire from the Opposition for “turning a blind eye” to an alleged “Congress-sanctioned” PDS scam in Assam.

The allegations are based on a 2008 report by the National Council of Applied Economic Research.

According to that report, Assam topped the list of states guilty of diverting PDS commodities for sale in the open market. The diversion in Assam was worth over Rs10,000 crore, it added.

“There are 33,500 fair price shops in Assam, and it is not possible to keep tabs on all of them. There has been a diversion of 15-25 per cent PDS items,” Islam said, adding the government was trying to computerise the PDS network to plug leakages.