During the coronavirus lockdown, the centre and the state governments made promises of giving food grains to the poor for free. However, there was little information about the nutritional value or quality. Now, the answer to the question of quality has come from the centre, at least for Madhya Pradesh's public distribution system (PDS). The ration stocked in warehouses in the heartland state's tribal-dominated Balaghat and Mandla districts is "suitable only for goats and sheep", according to a letter from the Consumer Affairs Ministry.
A letter by Consumer Affairs Ministry deputy commissioner Vishwajeet Haldar on August 21 - NDTV has a copy - said "stocks are found to be unfit for human consumption and in the category of feed".
"They had inspected depots of state agencies and fair-price shops in Balaghat and Mandla from July 30 to August 2 this year. It collected 32 samples - 31 from depots and one from a ration shop - which were analysed in NABL-accredited Central Grain Analysis Laboratory (CGAL), Krishi Bhawan, New Delhi. Analysis found that all 32 samples were not just beyond the rejection limit, as per the uniform specifications issued by the ministry, but also beyond PFA standards as per FSSAI. Stocks are found to be unfit for human consumption and in the category of 'feed' - suitable for livestock such as goat, horse, sheep and poultry," Mr Haldar said in the letter.
In Motinagar at the tribal-dominated Balaghat, a man who feeds his family of six says they did get ration for free from the government during the most intense period of the lockdown. However, Basant, who earns by pulling a hand cart, and his family could not eat those ration. "The quality of rice is poor. We bought rice from outside," he said.
Sangeeta Banskaar, who lives in the district, said, "Even animals won't eat this rice." Another resident, Alka Bai, said, "We are not able to eat this rice. If the government is giving us ration, it should be at least edible, otherwise what's the use? They should not make mockery of the poor by giving substandard rice."
The complaints by the people have been accepted by Consumer Affairs Ministry. "The stocks are 100 per cent recycled old stocks and the gunny bags used for storage are also at least two to three years old," the letter said.
Madhya Pradesh Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bishaulal Sahu said he is not aware of any such report. "If there is any such report, I'll take strict action against the officials," Mr Sahu said.
Former Rural Development Minister Kamleshwar Patel said the state government should immediately compensate for hardships the people went through and take action against officials who may have been involved in feeding substandard food grain. "But they are busy in posing for the camera and doing drama in the name of meeting flood-affected people," Mr Patel said.
The state government has been asked to submit an action-taken report soon to the ministry and act against officials found guilty of negligence.