Once again the siphoning of food grains worth crores and allegations of massive corruption in Public Distribution System have come to fore. And with it, once again the rot in the crucial Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs department along with the State Road Transport Corporation stands gaping. Contrary to government’s claim of making procurement and distribution of food grains transparent, monopoly and corruption seem to be ruling the roost in these setups. Otherwise, how does one explain hiring the same company to transport ration over and over again in the last one decade. How does this fit in the scheme of things that a contractor continues for years even when as many as 98 of its vehicles carrying ration are missing from the scene.
But, even with these eye-opening disclosures and controversies that many have tried to unwrap over the years, there hardly has been any mentionable action taken against those involved in these scams and massive irregularities.
The reason for this lack of seriousness and utter disregard, one could only assume, is the deep nexus that runs right through the hierarchy in a top down approach. Hence, not only are the blatant cases of corruption written-off, the officials, at the helm of affairs, find themselves encouraged to keep up with their corrupt practices.
Ideally, there should have been a far stricter approach in Public Distribution System since it directly dealt with the basic necessities of the entire population. That it provided food to those living below the poverty line should in itself have carried a moral and ethical binding on those responsible. However, ironically here in Kashmir, this system is mostly identified by cases of corruption and scams that, over the years, have been dug up.
On Monday only, the State’s Food Minister itself accepted in an official handout that there were a “few unscrupulous elements in the department” who were responsible for “pilferage of food grains”. The statement permeates a far softer approach to this otherwise major issue. The truth remains that these “few unscrupulous elements” are not few but too many and their nexus seems to be too strong to wrench. The Food Department has 6,000 employees but how strong is its internal vigilance setup, is a question that, time and again, is answered by the repeated scams and double-dealings that come to fore.
On top of that when the Food Department ropes in SRTC, which already is infamous for the mess it is in, things are bound to get a lot messier. The Food Minister talks of bringing in a “robust surveillance system” to monitor the food distribution”. Installation of a few surveillance cameras or fitting GPS systems in the vehicles may be a novel idea but what about the human resources in whose control these ideas are? How is the government planning to seep into those layers and layers of corruption that defy whatever little measures the administration tries to put in here and there.
The reality remains that until someone does not dig in the past and weed out the corrupt practices and officials, any new venture to being transparency would, more or less, prove futile. It is similar to buying new locks for your home and giving the keys to the one planning to rob it. It is high time that the government should understand the importance of this matter and set up an independent, timely and a thorough probe into this recent scam. As an immediate measure what the authorities can do is suspend those officers and other employees who prima facie are found to be involved. At the same time, a thorough overhaul of official records should also be done so that a water-tight case is made against the erring. Any missing link, record should straightway lead those probing to the actual loopholes. The authorities, if they are really serious on improving their image, should, henceforth enable the internal vigilance mechanism in both Food and SRTC department. Bringing accountability would only be possible when those erring are brought to book so that they remain an example for any such future wrongdoings.