Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Theft from Indian food rationing program labeled "the mother of all scams"

A massive network of corruption is about to be prosecuted in India. An government aid program that gives a ration of food and fuel to those below the poverty line has seen system wide graft since it began. Observers say the amount of food and fuel stolen amounts to $27 billion UK. To give a glimpse at the scope of the corruption, an entire jail would have to be built if all suspected are found guilty.

From the BBC, writer Geeta Pandey tells us about the massive corruptible system.

Officials say massive quantities of food grains and fuel, meant to be distributed through the public distribution system or to be given to the poor under welfare schemes like food-for-work and school meals for poor children, have been stolen over the years and sold on the open market.

This is being investigated by India's federal police and there are countless pages of court documents setting out the extent of the deception.

The scale is immense. It involves thousands of officials from top-level bureaucrats to middle-level officers to ground-level workers. It also involves thousands of transporters, village council leaders and fair-price shop owners.

"The subsidised supplies were siphoned off and sold in the open markets at much higher rates. In government records, they were shown to have been distributed among the people," says Vishwanath Chaturvedi, who filed a petition in court in 2005 demanding that those involved be punished.

In a recent order, the judges described the corruption in Uttar Pradesh as "alarming" and said the "administration has failed to disburse food to the poor and down-trodden".

The court ordered the investigating agencies to go after the guilty regardless of their position and the power they wielded.

Mr Chaturvedi's complaint was based on the report of the government's food cell, a police unit set up to examine corruption in food supplies, which covered a period of 19 months from April 2004 to October 2005.

A short distance away in Pachdeora village, several people line up to show me their BPL cards. I ask them if they have been getting regular supplies. "Off and on," they say. In the current month though, no one got any kerosene.

Vinod Kumar Singh of NGO Roji Roti Sangathan, who has been working on the issues of food security and jobs in the area since 2005, says: "If they are lucky, they receive ration once in three months."

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