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WB: ED Alleges Rs 1,000 Crore Ration Scam, Arrests Minister Jyotipriya Mullick

The scam allegedly occurred through extra ration cards allegedly used by TMC-patronised businesspeople and ration dealers to lift the PDS allotted quota of free rice and wheat under NFSA.
 Jyotipriya Mullick

Image Courtesy: PTI

Kolkata: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has unearthed a ration scam of over Rs 1,000 crore in West Bengal in which goods procured for distribution through the PDS (public distribution system) were allegedly siphoned off in the open market. The central investigative agency arrested businessman Bakibur Rahaman and minister Jyotipriyo Mullick in relation to the scam. Mullick, former food minister, currently holds the portfolio of Minister of Forests in the state cabinet. 

The alleged scam occurred through extra ration cards reportedly used by (Trinamool Congress) TMC-patronised businesspeople and ration dealers to lift the PDS allotted quota of free rice and wheat available under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and state RKSY (Rajya Khadya Suraksha Yojana) cards. 

As per The Telegraph, "the modus operandi of the corruption was pretty straightforward. The Centre sends procured wheat grains to government-enlisted rice mills and flour mills for crushing and converting them to atta (powdered wheat) and their subsequent distribution from fair price ration shops under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna to beneficiaries."

"Government distributors pick up the wheat from the millers and supply them to ration shops. Each distributor has an area-specific zone of operation, and the number of shops they can distribute the grains is also prefixed. The volume of grains distributors can procure from the mills is also specified and is mentioned in their delivery/supply slips," The Telegraph added

The first stage of corruption happened at this juncture when distributors, in collusion with millers, allegedly picked up "less than the specified volume from the mills for distribution to ration shops." As per investigators, the deficit procurement ranges from 20%-40% of the specified volume. The amount left behind was later sold at market rates in the open market. 

Mullick was in charge of the food and supplies department in West Bengal for a decade from 2011-21. The ED alleged that Mullick "was a direct beneficiary" and "played his part in laundering the proceeds of the crime."

The ED further alleged that Rahaman indirectly controls three bogus companies which were used to provide Rs 8 crore in the form of unrecovered loans to Mullick. The agency has also linked Mullick's wife and daughter to the scam. 

Biswambhar Basu, national general secretary of MR Ration Dealers' Association, told NewsClick that although Mullick has been arrested, the roots of the scam run deeper. 

"The officers of the food department are equally involved in the scam. In such a scam, huge involvement of personnel is required, which is not possible unless a political outfit is staunchly behind it."

In the past two years since the previous Assembly elections in 2021, there has been a decrease of 1.66 crore in the number of ration cards. As per media reports, Nabanna (state secretariat) recently enquired about the number of ration cards in the state. The information provided by the state food department revealed that the number of ration cards had decreased to around 8.84 crore as of October 23. The corresponding number for September 2021 was around 10.5 crore, implying a decrease of around 1.65 crore. 

There has been a decrease of 12 lakh ration cards in the North 24 Parganas district, which is represented by Mullick. Similarly, South 24 Parganas district saw a decrease of around 15 lakh cards, while Nadia district (where the FIR on ration scam was registered) saw a decrease of 8 lakh cards. 

However, not all the cards that have been cancelled are of dubious origin. Many cards belong to daily wage earners and have been suspended as the biometric entries did not match.

Interestingly, when these ration cards were active in Medinipur East district, they were used to extract rice, wheat and pulses. 

“Over one crore genuine consumers are being harassed every day and are not getting ration. Most daily wage earners do menial jobs and as a result, their thumb impressions may not match. Many have their mobile numbers different from the ones that they might have linked with Aadhaar. The Supreme Court has ordered that no genuine ration card holders should return empty-handed from the ration shops,” he said, adding that the “situation is pathetic in West Bengal and we are not able to serve the poor populace of the state whom the PDS system is meant for.”

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