India is all set to supply around 14,000 metric tons of rice to Bhutan, a member of the Southeast Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) depot in Siliguri.
FCI officials said the quality rice would be delivered to the neighbouring country from the SAARC’s Food Bank very shortly. “The procedure to deliver 14,000 MT of quality raw rice is almost complete. Bhutan officials contacted us yesterday to know about the amount that will be delivered every day. Everything has been finalized, except for the transportation system. We have informed Bhutan officials that on an average, 700 MT of rice will be delivered from the Siliguri depot every day,” said the Divisional Manager, FCI, Saptarshi Mondal.
It may be noted that the Union Home Secretary had recently asked the state Chief Secretary to allow transportation of essential items like food, medicine and fuel, to SAARC countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The borders have been closed due to the Covid19 spread and the lockdown. Talking to reporters at Nabanna today, Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha admitted the recent order from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and said: “We have good relations with those neighbouring countries. We never want those countries to face problems at the present situation. We must look into their problems. But we have some obligations. Only an order from the MHA is not enough. Not only West Bengal, but all states have the right to impose strict restrictions based on a written order from the Centre.”
On the other hand, Mr Mondal said state officials associated with the food and supplies department have completed lifting of rice allotted for the month of April 2020 from the Siliguri depot. “Some districts have also completed 70 percent lifting for the month of May. Darjeeling district has sent the indent order even for the month of June,” he said.
The deadline for lifting the rice for the month of May has been extended till 15 May. Notably, after a spat between the Centre and the state over alleged malpractices in the Public Distribution System (PDS) and alleged non-implementation of the PMGKAY (Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojona), the state had finally asked all district controllers of the food and supplies department to lift rice from the FCI depot by 30 April.
Notably, the BJP leadership has alleged that the state did not lift rice from the FCI to distribute 5 kg per head per month free of cost through the PDS among the targeted people for three months. Significantly, the West Bengal government has not lifted rice from the FCI since the implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in Bengal. The state had been distributing rice through the PDS by procuring paddy from farmers and rice from mills. The state used to lift food grains from the FCI depots for the Midday Meal project in schools and Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) centres.
Official records show that the FCI has cleared for Siliguri depot more than 10 rakes at the New Jalpaiguri Railway station in Siliguri in the past one month. At present, the FCI’s Siliguri depot has 16,000 MT of raw rice (Grade A). More rakes carrying rice are arriving from Punjab for the Siliguri depot, it is learnt. As per FCI officials, Grade A quality rice is being provided not only under the PMGKAY for four districts in North Bengal and Sikkim, but also distributed for army personnel at Hasimara, Bengdubi, Binnaguri and Damdim, and even Bhutan.
Under the PMGKAY, 58,000 MT rice was allotted for Darjeeling, 12,000 MT for Kalimpong, 25,000 MT for Jalpaiguri and 25,000 for Alipurduar. As per the requirement, authorities of North Bengal districts including Cooch Behar lift boiled rice from Cooch Behar FCI depot.