On the onset of the Christmas season, Kerala stands short of subsidised rice in the godowns of its government’s grocery arm Supplyco. This despite, the state Food Minister P Thilothaman had set aside, Rs 1,171 crore for rice distribution, alleging that, in the open market, the wholesale suppliers from Andhra Pradesh were creating artificial rice shortage. Currently, there is a huge shortage of subsidised rice in state-run subsidised grocery outlets, according to the internal vigilance report submitted to the Supplyco managing director. Although the state has rolled out special Christmas fairs, including the fair stalls, all the 33 major outlets of Supplyco have little stock of subsidised rice. The vigilance team has reported that even the purchase order is yet to be made.
Supplyco sources reported that although the depot management committees have orders for direct purchase to refill the outlets, but the junior officials are hesitant to bypass the e-tender route. This is because a good bunch of officials who skipped the e-tender formalities have been facing investigation and disciplinary action. “For the first time, the convention of special supply of rice and wheat for Christmas will go topsy-turvy, this season,” former Chief Minister and Congress leader Oommen Chandy said. According to the new Food act, 1.54 crore people in the priority list are eligible for four kg of rice and 2 kg of wheat per month free of cost. In Kerala, nearly 1.24 crore people in the APL subsidy category (previously Below Poverty Line category) are entitled to get two kg of rice at Rs 2 per kg per month. For 65 lakh people in the APL category, each family would get 1 kg of rice at R8.90 and 1 kg of wheat at Rs 6.70 per kg. “The public distribution system is in shatters. Till date, the state had not been able to supply even 50 % of the ration for the last month”, Chandy claimed.
The Kerala government is expecting the support of the Central Government on procuring rice from FCI at Rs 21.50 per kg. After handling charges, the state expects to distribute it at Rs 23 per kilo. The minister pointed out that, besides the cut in the Centre’s rice allocation to the state, it is the series of tiffs between FCI and the state over handling charges issues have kept the Christmas counters in Kerala, starved of subsidised rice, this season.The Kerala government is also making eleventh hour efforts to procure local Kuttanad rice varieties from the mills of Oil Palm India to serve its Christmas fairs.