Gadchiroli: The monsoon in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli district has just picked up. It's been raining incessantly for the past few days. At a government godown, a few black sheets of cheap plastic lazily cover tons of rice bags. The stench is unbearable. And apart for a few stray cows and buffalos that seem to be having a field day gorging into the grains, no one else seems to care.
One would think, as the stark possibility of a drought stares at Maharashtra, the concern to feed the poor would be the top priority for the state government. But from the hard ground reality in Gadchiroli, it doesn't seem so.
In fact, it appears to be apathy at its criminal worst. For over two years, tons of rice packed in gunny bags have been lying unattended, left to the mercy of the elements. So much so that when NDTV went to these several godowns, fresh green shoots of paddy were growing from many of these rice bags.
The rice was bought by the state government from tribal farmers under a central scheme - the Price Support Scheme for Tribals - and then distributed under the Public Distribution Scheme. Started in 2011-12, the scheme was an effort to ensure that poor farmers in tribal regions get a fair price for their produce and don't fall prey to shrewd traders.
Dipak Atram, the Congress party's own MLA from the district, concedes the colossal wastage runs to the tune of Rs 250 crore. "Rice stock worth an estimated Rs 500 crore in Gadchiroli has not been sold for two years. As no assistance was given half the stock is rotting. It is stinking. Animals are feeding into it and some of it has been stolen," says Atram, who is also a director of the state's Tribal Development Corporation.
As is the case across the country, here in Gadchiroli too, godowns don't have proper sheds with roofs, exposing grains to inclement weather. Atram claims, he wrote several times to the government, apprising them of the situation but no decision was taken. "I wrote to the government as I am the director. But the government has been negligent."
But NCP leader and Maharashtra's Tribal Development Minister Babanrao Pachpute passes on the blame to the Centre. "The Centre entrusted us with the responsibility to procure rice. We purchased a big stock. But the responsibility to pick up the stock and process it lies with the central government. It is not our responsibility. And the mills did not show interest as it has become expensive."
Ask him how many tons of rice are rotting away and Pachpute comes with a stunner. "Over two lakh tons!"
"It was for poor people and meant to be distributed through the PDS. This is shameful and a gross insult to the hard work of tribal farmers. The state government must act," slams Rajendra Maraskolhe, President, All India Tribal Employees Federation
Another problem Atram says is that since the godowns are in far-away areas, transporters have refused to ferry the rice as it is simply not viable. He now says funds from the Tribal Development Corporation will be allocated for the transportation and clearing of stock before it all rots away.
Story first published:
August 09, 2012 21:35 IST