Pondicherry: ‘No cash transfers, no subsidized rice’ -Gov.

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Pondicherry: The stores of the Public Distribution System (PDS) have been closed in the Union Territory (UT) of Pondicherry since 2019. This followed the then UT Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi implementing the payment in lieu of rationing scheme despite the opposition from the Congress government led by Narayanasamy.

Families with a red card (below the poverty line) were promised 600 rupees per month instead of 20 kg of rice and yellow card holders were promised 300 rupees instead of 10 kg of rice.

However, the communist parties and Congress have accused the state of not even transferring money for the past 15 months. They allege that the unpaid money amounted to 9,000 rupees for each family holding a red card and 4,500 rupees for holders of a yellow card.

The closure of ration shops and the withdrawal of cash transfers have severely affected the poor, workers in the unorganized sector and families without stable income. They depended on subsidized rice distributed by PDS ration shops.

ICC(M) PROTEST

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) staged a protest on August 2 demanding the state of Pondicherry to open all ration shops and provide essentials including free good quality rice and subsidized pulses.

A rally followed by a protest sit-in took place in front of the Pondicherry headquarters. More than 300 people attended the rally along with the former Chief Minister of Pondicherry, Narayanasamy. The protest call came after a CPI(M) delegation met Chief Minister Rangasamy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-NR Congress coalition, where he reportedly denied continuing the cash transfers.

Notably, the National Democratic Alliance’s All India NR Congress has pledged to reopen closed ration shops if elected to power in the 2021 assembly elections.

Speaking at the protest, CPI(M) Politburo member G Ramakrishnan pointed out that “Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who visited Pondicherry during the Assembly’s election campaign , announced that he would open mobile ration shops if elected to power”.

He also said, “This year on Republic Day, Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan said they would convert the ration shops into supermarkets. But their promises vanished into thin air.”

NO MONEY, NO RICE

In 2015, when the BJP was in power in the center and the NR Congress was in power in Pondicherry, the then state CM Rangasamy introduced a direct cash disbursement scheme to replace the existing free rice. After protests from the people and the communist parties, it was withdrawn.

However, three years ago, Kiran Bedi, the governor under Narayanasamy-led Congress, implemented the cash-in-lieu ration program despite opposition from the state government.

Since the last election in 2021, when the BJP-NR Congress alliance came to power, money transfer has also been blocked.

Rally demanding the reopening of PDS stores. Image courtesy of CPI(M) Pondicherry

Perumal, a senior leader of CPI(M), Pondicherry, told NewsClick, “Ever since the cash-for-rice scheme was proposed in 2015, CPI(M) has been adamantly opposed to it. There are many livelihood issues in Pondicherry, but this one is very important. At the recent multi-party meeting, all political parties present – ​​including DMK, Congress, CPI and others – stressed the importance of this issue”.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic period, informal workers and poor families have lost their livelihoods and the marginalized are without income. Even in such a dire situation, the ruling government refuses to provide free rice, subsidies and money,” Perumal observed.

“Tens of thousands of families in Pondicherry have fallen into poverty over the past 15 years. Due to rising commodity prices, the poor in the state could not meet their food needs. Their children are malnourished,” Ramakrishnan told NewsClick.

Moreover, the CPI(M) accused the state of handing out red cards to small entrepreneurs in times of crisis, but not to those in need. Even tribal families don’t get red cards.

The population of Pondicherry State is 15 lakh. The total of ration cards issued there is 3.52 lakh. Of these, 1.6 lakh are red cards and 1.66 are yellow cards. There are a total of 515 ration shops in Pondicherry state which remain closed.

Pondicherry UT includes Karaikal, Mahé and Yanam.

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