Protests in West Bengal against PDS irregularities

violent protests against the public distribution system have spread across many districts in West Bengal over the past weeks. Two people have died, many have been injured and over 70 are behind bars.

Initial protests broke out on September 16 in Bankura district following allegations that subsidized foodgrains and sugar meant for the poor were being diverted to regular markets and sold at higher prices by ration dealers. Thousands of angry villagers in Bankura, Bribhum and Burdwan districts have been on a rampage since, looting ration shops, attacking dealers, burning stores and vehicles.

Massive police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in the districts. Police firing claimed two lives at Bankura and Birbhum. At the time this magazine went to press, authorities were struggling to quell the violence.

Following the protests, the state government cancelled licences of 55 ration dealers on corruption charges. The government has also said that it is looking into other complaints. Meanwhile, about 1,200 ration dealers in Bankura and many dealers in Birbhum and Burdwan have returned their licences to district authorities.

A recent central government inquiry found that most rural poor in five states are not getting subsidized food supplies regularly. In West Bengal alone, Rs 1,913.76 crore of subsidized food grain was stolen last year. The report blames corruption in the state administration. Ruling Left Front chairperson Biman Bose, however, says the public distribution system has collapsed because of the centre's anti-poor policies. Opposition parties, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress have demanded a cbi probe.

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