Uproar in Assembly over food crisis in J&K

24 August 2009
The Daily Excelsior
Inayat Jehangir

SRINAGAR: The grants for meeting the expenditure of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) and Transport departments for 2009-10 were passed amidst din in the Legislative Assembly even as CAPD Minister Qamar Ali Akhoon announced an interim increase of 15 kilograms in ration supply per family for the holy month of Ramadhan. The CAPD Minister announced that the ration supply per family will be increased from 35 to 50 kilograms for the fasting month after the Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone insisted on a 'specific' statement from the Minister following the second walk out of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) MLAs protesting against the scarce availability of ration in the depots. 'The ground situation is not right. At least give interim relief for Ramadhan give a specific statement,' the Speaker told Akhoon as the debate over the availability of provisions in the ration depots created a furore in the Assembly with even the ruling National Conference and Congress MLAs threatening of protests if the 'crisis' was not resolved. The uproar started over ration shortage started during Question Hour after the PDP MLAs demanded a half an hour discussion over the food crisis in the State. As the Speaker asked them to start the discussion, Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather suggested that it should be clubbed with the debate over the release of grants for departments under CAPD Ministry. The Speaker agreed with Rather's suggestion even as the PDP legislators staged the first walk out saying that the 'food crisis' was a different issue. Congress MLA GA Mir said in protest, 'provide some help to the people. Why is the Government silent? It is our collective responsibility. Should we immolate ourselves?' National Panthers Party (NPP) MLA Harshdev Singh demanded the establishment of consumer courts at the district level and alleged that the Government was taking almost no action regarding overcharging and adulteration of ration. 'How many have been punished for overcharging? What has been the output of Legal Metrology Department? Only three FIRs have been registered and no arrests made,' he said. CPI-M State secretary MY Tarigami said the State was still getting rations as per the census conducted in 2000 even as the population had gone up by then. He demanded computerization of lists for both Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) so that the ration supplies were not misused. Tarigami also said the legislators 'must unite on hunger issue.' BJP legislator Prof Chaman Lal Gupta called for implementation of Cabinet decision on the matter and said the Public Distribution System needed improvement. JSM MLA Ashwani Sharma said many poor people were not getting BPL ration and called for tackling black marketing. He said the Government should provide ration at 'door-steps' as people had to walk long distances in the remote areas for obtaining provisions. NC MLA Vakar Rasool said it was difficult for the families that had 11 to 12 members to survive on a supply of 35 kilograms and called for implementation of 11 kilograms per head scheme. NC MLA Chowdhry Ramzan said fertile land had been 'diverted for other purposes' and added that the ration problem was not a 'PDP issue only' as it concerned all. PDP MLA A R Veeri said the matter had gone beyond the control of CAPD Minister and the Government had to take a 'concrete decision' in this regard. MLA Langate Abdul Rashid said 'trade unionism had spoilt the department' and said he willing to give a 'concession' to the Government of not demanding ration for the month of Ramadhan. 'I give a concession to the Government. Do not give my constituency ration for the fasting month but give it for the remaining 11 months.' MLA P Namgyal urged the Government to act hurriedly as the food supplies had to be dumped in Ladakh region within a period of two months. PDP legislator Peerzada Mansoor said, 'You (Government) survived the Shopian incident but this issue will not leave you.' He further alleged there were no provisions at all in his constituency. In reply, the CAPD Minister said the situation was not that grave as the legislators had projected. When he tried to read out a list, which according to Akhoon contained figures that ration supplied to the depots across the State had increased this year, PDP MLAs started protesting again. 'If there is a crisis, make a statement,' PDP MLA Nizamuddin Bhat demanded. The grants of Rs 105700.98 lakhs for departments under the CAPD and Transport Ministry were passed by the Speaker after the PDP walkout. Earlier during Question Hour, PDP and NPP staged walk out in protest in the Assembly while two members from the ruling National Conference-Congress coalition said they had no choice but to side with the opposition over shortage of food and power supplies. However, it was National Conference MLA from Kalakote Rashpal Singh who staged first walk out of the day in the Assembly. Singh said for last three years, he was told that tenders would be floated for the power project in his constituency but nothing has happened so far. 'Protests were held against me in my constituency over the issue. We have to face the people,' he said while staging a brief walk out. All MLAs of PDP walked out of the House after Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone refused to allow half-an-hour discussion on food grain shortage at the outlets of the Consumer Affairs and Public Affairs Distribution (CAPD) Department. When the PDP members raised the issue at the start of the Question Hour, the Speaker ruled that a discussion will be held after it. After the end of Question Hour, Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather cited rules of the conduct of House proceedings saying it did not permit such a discussion as the issue had been discussed earlier. Raising slogans 'logon ko ration do, warna kursi chhorr do' (give ration to the people or resign), the PDP members walked out of the House, only to return 10 minutes later. Earlier, Syed Bashir Ahmad of PDP was the lone member to stage walk out to protest against Speaker's decision not to hold 30-minute discussion on the same issue. National Panthers' Party (NPP) MLAs staged a walk out to protest against the Deputy Commissioner Udhampur, who according to Harshdev Singh, did not consult the elected representatives of the people on development works in their areas. 'The Cabinet is meeting today and the Deputy Commissioner should be transferred. If he is not shifted, we will sit on dharna here (pointing towards the well of House),' Singh said before leading Balwant Singh Mankotia and Yashpaul Kundal out of the House. Singh had raised a question of grant of additionalities to the districts during the year and alleged that Government was meting out step motherly treatment to Udhampur district. 'Ganderbal was given additionality of Rs 11.50 crore and Srinagar Rs 11 crore it is good, they deserve it. Other districts have been given Rs 6 crore, Rs 4 crore and Rs 3 crore but Udhampur has got the least Rs 1.37 crore in additionalities,' he said referring to figures provided by the Government in response to his own question. He said the Government cannot take Udhampur for granted. Meanwhile, MLA Doda Abdul Majid Wani threatened to leave the treasury benches if the Speaker continued to ignore him while allowing the members to speak on various issues in the House. 'You always call Harshdev ji, Tarigami Sahib, Moulvi Sahib we are also elected members of this House. If this continued, I will part ways with the Government,' he said. National Conference MLA from Kupwara, Saifullah Mir while taking part in discussion on grants for CAPD Department, said he was helpless but to rush to the well of the House in case opposition benches decide to hold protest against the shortage of food grains in the State. 'People who have elected me have asked me about the availability of the food grains. I have no answer to their questions. I will be compelled to join the opposition benches in protest if the Government fails to take immediate remedial measures,' he added. In his reply to debate on the grants, Mr Akhoon said that in the last three days, 35193 quintals of additional quantity of ration has been rushed to different destinations of Jammu division and 57, 000 quintals of additional food grains to Kashmir division. Steps have also been taken to check pilferage which will have desired effect in the coming months. The cooperation and support of the legislators is vital to meet this unprecedented challenge, he said. The Minister also shared the concern of the members on the situation developing in the State for the last one year due to manifold increase in demand for ration under PDS and the constraints in meeting it in view of inadequate allocation of food grains by the Government of India. Speaking about the initiatives taken by the State Government for streamlining the supplies of ration, the Minister said two multi-disciplinary monitoring cells have been established, one each at Lower Munda and Rajbagh Kathua to physically check food grain laden trucks entering J&K from Punjab near Lakhanpur and then entering Kashmir at Lower Munda. It has desired effect. Vigilance Committees with Tehsildars as Nodal Officers have been constituted at block level to monitor receipt and distribution of PDS ration. He said the Directors have been directed to make inspection at-least once in a week, Deputy Directors twice a week and Assistant Directors at-least thrice time in a week. TSOs will inspect 2-3 sale outlets daily and submit reports to AD-DD. Only SRTC trucks or private trucks engaged by it are now being used for carriage of PDS food grains, unless specifically authorized by the Administrative Department in emergent circumstances, he added. The Minister said no trucks belonging to the employees of department of CAPD or its relation, if any, shall be used for the purpose. Even SRTC shall not engage such trucks. He said no weigh bridge located in the premises of the millers would now be used by the FCI for weighing the food grains. He said a new policy is under formulation to focus the poor and people living in Kandi and Hilly areas who have dire need of PDS. A control room has been set up at Srinagar and Jammu headed by Joint Directors of the CAPD Department to keep the track of supplies to different destinations in the region and record and address complaints.