Ration shop improves as people exercise their rights
By Ashok Herekar
Mangenkoppa and Kasamaligi villages of Khanapur taluk in Belgaum district together have around 1200 families. One third of the families in these villages are BPL card holders. By rule these BPL card holders are supposed to get ration and kerosene every month. The reality however is far from this. . Again the rules say that the ration shop should be kept open throughout the month excepting the Govt. holidays. The shop should be kept open from 8am -12noon and from 4pm to 8pm. The shop should have a rate board properly displayed. A vigilance committee should be appointed to ensure proper functioning of the ration shop. These rules however exist on the paper and at implementation level the functioning of the shop depends on the whims and fancy of the shop owner.
Ration in Mangenkoppa is distributed through a mobile shop which in turn is run by the society of Agricultural Products Marketing Centre (APMC) Nandgad village. With a mobile shop system the same person goes to distribute ration to different villages. As a result he can keep the shop open for 3-4 days in a month from 10 am to 5 pm, in each village. The villagers therefore have to forgo their income on the day they have to collect their ration. Tired of this system the villagers have submitted several petitions to the Tehsildar and the Deputy Commissioner but to no effect. Whenever they go on a demonstration there is some temporary relief and again the same old story continues.
Jagruti keeps villagers aware of the new developments at the policy level and also guides them in the direction of availing their rights. Under the guidance of Jagruti a new strategy was planned. The villagers organized a demonstration in front of the Gram Panchayat office. This strategy did have an effect for the next two months after which there was shocking news that 130 BPL cards have been cancelled! When this matter was brought to the notice of the Tehsildar, he shirked away from his responsibility stating that this cancellation was done in accordance with the Govt. order that 30% of the BPL cards should be withdrawn. When asked for the order copy, the Tehsildar said that it was only oral instructions. Later it was found that in all villages the cards were being cancelled. The sad part of this story was that the cards cancelled were of those who were really poor and needy!
Villagers again started discussing to find out a solution to this new problem. The issue was discussed with Jagruti also. With the new awareness that a special Gram Sabha may be requested for, if 100 members in a village demand for it in writing, the villagers put a demand before the Tehsildar and the Executive Officer that a special Gram Sabha be called to discuss about the issue of Ration card cancellation. The very moment this application was submitted , the process of returning the cancelled cards started! The Tehsildar and the Executive Officer have also promised to solve other ration related problems. The demand for special Gram Sabha however did not materialize as the Lok sabha election dates were declared but the functioning style of the ration shop is improving. Today the shop keeper is handing over the receipts and does not charge any extra amount for the ration distributed. Will these and other improvements continue to exist or will the villagers have to keep the struggle for rights…..? Who can give a definite answer?