'Government offers us worm-infested rice because we are poor,' Bhiwandi tribal villager

Updated: 12 October, 2020 16:50 IST | Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Thane tribal villages seethe with anger after relief grains are found full of worms; sacked officer says seniors are running a racket

The Katkari tribals in Bhiwandi, Pics/Hanif Patel
The Katkari tribals in Bhiwandi, Pics/Hanif Patel

The Katkari tribal community in Bhiwandi, Thane district has not only had to suffer the pain of lockdown and food shortage but also government apathy, evident in the sacks full of worm-infested rice given to them recently. After the community protested outside the Tribal Development Corporation (TDC) office, a sub-regional manager Vinay Yedage was suspended. Yedage, in turn, has claimed that he has been made a scapegoat to protect senior officers who are involved in malpractices.

Also Read: COVID-19 Impact: Barely 3 Hours From Mumbai, Palghar Tribal Mom Suicide Points To Acute Food Shortage

After the tribe discovered the worms in the rice on the very day it was distributed on October 7, Barku Daji Misal, 49, from Lakhivali village of Nanda, Bhiwandi Taluka submitted a complaint to the Shahapur police.

The inferior quality rice infested with worms
The inferior quality rice infested with worms

"I am a labourer and would often sleep without food during lockdown. We don't have food today either. The worm-infested rice would have given us food poisoning. It can't even be fed to animals. This is what the government offers us just because we are poor," Misal told mid-day.

'I have been targeted'

"I am posted in Mokhada Taluka of Palghar as sub-regional manager and I was given additional charge of Chimbipada in Bhiwandi, Thane district, where the grain was distributed. Also, I was not present during the distribution of the rice because I was also given the additional charge of Raigad district," Yedage told mid-day.

Suspended sub-regional manager Vinay Yedage
Suspended sub-regional manager Vinay Yedage

"I have been made a scapegoat just to save senior officials involved in the racket. This is a conspiracy hatched by TDC Regional Manager Sadanand Rajure who suspended me for no reason. I will approach the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal against the suspension," Yedage said. Phone calls and messages sent to Rajure went unanswered.

'Govt wasted foodgrains'

The state government, in an undertaking to the Bombay High Court in April, had agreed to distribute 20-kg rice bags to each family of the Katkari community; 60 such families were given the grain.

The inferior quality rice infested with worms
The inferior quality rice infested with worms

"On April 15, the TDC issued a letter saying grains stored at the godown should be distributed among primitive tribes. The same letter was issued to the Block Development Officers (BDOs) and tehsildars," said Vivek Pandit, chairman of a government-appointed committee created to study the status of schemes for tribals in Maharashtra. Pandit in his petition to the high court had raised concerns over impoverished tribals.

"The TDC said that they purchased paddy from farmers between 2013 and 2016 and stored it in godowns in Vikramgarh, Jawhar and Mokhada. The quantity was 20,000 quintals worth R4 crore. These bags of rice were milled in June and July this year."

60 families from the Katkari tribe received the food assistance
60 families from the Katkari tribe received the food assistance

"The milling cost Rs 31 lakh, transportation cost Rs 30 lakh, and bags of 10 kg rice cost Rs 3.50 lakh. So the total wastage is of over R4.50 crore," Pandit said.
"In addition, when the government promised to distribute it in April, why was the milling done in June and July? And why was it distributed only in October? This delay amounts to criminal negligence," Pandit told mid-day.

"The TDC had also asked the Department of Economics and Public Policy Institute, Mumbai University to conduct a survey of tribals. Yet the list of tribes has not been prepared till date, the TDC officials say," he added.

Barku Daji Misal has submitted a complaint to Shahapur police
Barku Daji Misal has submitted a complaint to Shahapur police

Claims of malpractice

In general practice, TDC officials purchase paddy from farmers, send it for milling and distribute it among tribals. Sources told mid-day that officials generally sell fresh grain in the market and purchase inferior quality grains from Haryana, Punjab and Karnataka at low prices. These are kept to distribute to tribals.

Pandit alleged that this practice is happening with the connivance of TDC, district supply officers, and traders including Jai Anand Food Industry, Agarwal trader and Mehta Trader.

Pandit claimed that one low-rung officer of the TDC has been suspended but the 'big fish is still out of the net'.

Pandit also questioned, "The officials involved in the purchase, storage and milling of paddy must be booked and suspended with immediate effect. What was the general manager of TDC doing? Why did he not get things right?"

Issue of ration cards

Sources told mid-day that there are nearly 18,000 tribals in Thane, Palghar, Nashik and Raigad districts with no ration cards. "Several measures have been adopted by the government to give food grain to tribals, but what is the use if 18,000 tribals in four districts have no ration card? Issuing of the cards has been delayed because authorities demand documentary evidence which tribals don't have at the moment," said a source.

"The state government was directed by the HC to ensure that food grains and other essentials items reach tribals. However, when food does reach them, this is its quality," the source added.

Pandit too mentioned that he had asked the high court to direct district supply officers in Palghar and Thane to consider ration card applications of nuclear families so that they may obtain the benefits under Antyoday Yojana. The same was granted by the high court.

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First Published: 12 October, 2020 06:05 IST

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