It's been a week since people of Katihar's Labha, a village about 300 kilometers from Patna, has boycotted 45-year-old Mohd Akhtar and his family. Mr Akhtar runs a Fair Price Shop which is responsible for distributing essential grains at subsidised rates under the government's Public Distribution System.
A meeting of village elders last week charged Mr Akhtar with fraud. "He never gives us our full quota. Sometimes he gives us a few kilograms less and says he doesn't have stock," said 60-year-old Rumela Khatoon, who lives with her family of six in the village.
Activists working in the area rebuke this as positive news. A decade ago, Bihar's Public Distribution System was totally broken, most ration shops defunct, and grains meant for the poor were being stolen by shopkeepers and corrupt government officials and sold in the open market, they allege.
But on the other hand, six independent studies conducted in the last three years show in 2012 in Bihar, 80 per cent of grains from Fair Price Shops or FPS reached the people. In 2014, over 8 crore people benefitted from the distribution system, indicated the studies.
Reetika Khera, Associate Professor of Economics at IIT Delhi, who led one of the studies, said, "There are important challenges ahead. Chief among them is to improve logistic arrangements for lifting PDS grain, greater awareness regarding prices and ensuring that the list of ration card holders is in the public domain."
The state government gives credit to their introduction of a coupon system for the distribution of grains. Every family covered under PDS is given 12 coupons each. Every month, these families redeem one coupon at the local ration shop. The shop owner has to forward the coupons to local government officials in order to procure supplies for the next month.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar assured that government was working to improve the system. "We have heard cases where the shopkeepers conspire with government officials and still manage to cheat. But we are trying to introduce more safeguards. We have tagged all vehicles that supply grain with GPS, so that it can't be diverted to open markets. It's not foolproof, but its working better," he said.