We have quite a few ministers in the Assam Cabinet who have proved their inefficiency beyond a shadow of doubt. Among them are some like zrul Islam who have become past masters at the game of destroying the system itself and then inventing reasons for not being able to do things. We have been witness to zrul Islam’s functioning as Minister for Food and Civil Supplies for quite a long time. During his term as minister, prices of essential food items increased as they had never done before. Until recently, the increase in vegetable prices had been phenomel and unprecedented. For years, he had done nothing to control prices or reduce the long chain of middlemen (many of them from his own political party) who add to prices. He just let the unscrupulous elements in the market have their way. Even though he is aware of the Public Distribution System (PDS) existing solely for poor people, he had done nothing to plug the leaks in the system. There have been serious allegations that a substantial part of what comes through the PDS goes out to Bangladesh instead of getting to people below the poverty line in our State. Recently this minister told the Assam Assembly: “The leaks vary from 10 to 20 per cent in places. Though we have a system of vigilance, it is not possible to stop the leakage completely because of the wide network of the system.” It will be recalled that the PDS, launched in 1997 with 7.2 million tonnes of food grains every year, has its focus on the six crore of the tion’s very poor people. However, given our corrupt ways, nearly half of the food grains routed through the PDS have leaked out for the benefit of unscrupulous traders. Assam is not free from the malaise, and an incompetent minister like zrul Islam can only take comfort from a bad practice instead of trying to mend things. What have made matters worse for him are about 289,234 bogus ration cards in circulation. He said there was an inquiry on to identify the officials who issued these bogus ration cards and that those found guilty would be punished. But people know that this promise is as empty as the Chief Minister’s promise that corrupt bureaucrats will have their property attached. In any case, people are hardly surprised at zrul Islam’s statement that the PDS leaks cannot be plugged because they have also heard his other statement as Health Minister—that nothing can be done to tackle swine ‘flu. He is already beginning to be known as the “Can’t do” minister. But yet he remains.
Dealing with PDS Leaks