Delhi Withholds Rs 7,000 Crore for Paddy Procurement as West Bengal Fails to Display PM Modi’s Photos at Ration Shops


  • January 22, 2024
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Blocking subsidies meant for the poor and the marginalized to exact political revenge is unethical and reveals the Union government’s anti-working-class and anti-farmer position.

 

Groundxero Report | 22 Jan 2024

 

The Narendra Modi-led Union government has decided to withhold the release of Rs 7,000 crore earmarked for the state government in West Bengal to procure paddy under public distribution system (PDS), according to a report by The New Indian Express. After the MGNREGA (rural job guarantee scheme) and PM Awas Yojana (PMAY), this is the third scheme, under which the BJP-led government at the Centre has decided to withhold payment to the TMC-led government in West Bengal. The reason cited for the latest step being the state’s failure to display sign boards and flexes featuring the National Food Security Act (NFSA) logo and photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at ration shops in the state.

 

Right to Food and Work Campaign, West Bengal, has expressed deep concern over the Union government decision suspending Rs 7000 crores money allotted for West Bengal’s paddy procurement. “The alleged reason for this withholding—noncompliance with exhibiting images of the Hon’ble Prime Minister in ration shops—is not only a frightening display of dictatorial tendencies, but also a threat to the ideals of federalism,” a statement by the civil rights group said. This development undermines the spirit of the National Food Security Act, 2013, the statement added.

 

The freeze on reimbursement of Rs 7,000 crore could adversely affect paddy procurement in the state in the ongoing financial year, severely impacting the state’s small and marginal farmers. An official from the state government told The New Indian Express that the state has set a target to procure 80% of its annual target of 70 lakh tonnes during the Kharif season, which extends until February-end. “If the state does not get enough funds during this window, the entire process will be hit.”

 

The state has so far procured 22 lakh tonnes of paddy, including 8.52 lakh tonnes for the central pool, against its annual target of 70 lakh tonnes this year. Paddy procurement at Minimum Support Price (MSP) is politically vital for Bengal’s ruling establishment before the general elections polls.

 

The Right to Food and Work Campaign said that West Bengal has been singled out over the last two years for such vindictive actions, impacting critical social welfare programs such as MNREGA and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojona. It has decried the move as not only a frightening display of dictatorial tendency but a blatant disregard to the ideals of federalism. It said, “such techniques, reminiscent of medieval sieges, impose a significant social cost on vulnerable households and undermine democratic administration.”

 

Earlier, from December 17, 2021, the Narendra Modi Government also stopped paying wages to MGNREGA workers in West Bengal. This was done totally arbitrarily, without resorting to the law on this issue. Finally, on March 9, 2022, it took the legal measure of invoking Section 27 of the MGNREGA, as a result of which 6.8 crores or about 60% of the West Bengal population who uses NREGA as a source of income or as supplementary income are adversely impacted. Almost all NREGA work has been stopped in the state since mid-2022. To date, wages to the extent of Rs 2800 crores remain unpaid to these workers. It is almost as if the entire rural working population of West Bengal has been labelled “thief ”, and has been excluded from the program. The question of why the entire NREGA rural workforce in West Bengal should be punished for the corruption of a handful of political leaders remains unanswered, and the courts as well as bureaucrats at all levels and elected representatives are giving the issue minimal importance.

 

The rural worker’s employment guarantee scheme and the Food Security Act through the public distribution system are the consequence of hard fought campaigns and struggles by progressive and democratic forces, is the ‘right’ for the citizens, rather than a ‘gift’ of any ruling party. The Modi government’s emphasis on portraying entitlements as beneficent gifts undermines the spirit of such legislations. Instead of properly partnering with State governments to further develop and extend these pro-poor schemes, the Union government seems more concerned with highlighting its accomplishments. The Right to Food and Work Campaign has pointed out that the proposal to include images of the honorable Prime Minister on ration bags is a mistaken attempt to express concern. It added that the government’s commitment of significant sums to media marketing rather than improving the public distribution system demonstrates mistaken priorities.

 

The group has demanded rapid disbursal of funds, which are critical to small and marginal farmers that rely on Minimum Support Price mechanism. It said, “Blocking subsidies to exact political revenge is unethical and reveals the central government’s anti-working-class and anti-farmer position. We demand the prompt release of funds and an unconditional apology from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.”

 

 

Also read : The Problem of Unpaid NREGA Wages In West Bengal

 

 

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