Egg Fight in Odisha: 75 Percent of the State Is Apparently Poor

In Odisha, the egg has emerged as a weapon of dissent over the state government’s inaction in fake ration card scam.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Irregularities in the implementation of the National Food Security Act in Odisha blows holes in the government’s claims of development. (Photo: iStockphoto/Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

In a classic case of the rich enjoying benefits meant for the poor, the Odisha government has been hit by a ration card scam that is baring its fangs in the state. Many rich and influential people, including elected representatives of the ruling BJD, have managed to procure ration cards under the National Food Security Act. Under pressure from the government, nearly 1.5 lakh card holders have applied for the withdrawal of their cards. Still, there are 3.26 crore people on the list.

Those found to have been issued the digitised ration cards under NFSA include councillors, corporators, PR representatives and the spouse of a ruling party legislator. Wife of Rajiv Patra, a sitting BJD legislator from Baliguda in Kandhamal district, was issued such a card. Her name is still there on the list though she applied for its withdrawal.

Similar allegations have also cropped up from several urban local bodies in the Chief Minister’s home district of Ganjam, including from the Berhampur Municipal Corporation. The other urban local bodies that have figured in the scam so far include Puri, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Keonjhar, Khordha, Dhenkanal, Jajpur, Kalahandi and Sambalpur.

An egg fight, referring to hurling of eggs at BJD ministers over the fake ration card scam has created a controversy across Naveen’s Odisha. (Photo: PTI)
An egg fight, referring to hurling of eggs at BJD ministers over the fake ration card scam has created a controversy across Naveen’s Odisha. (Photo: PTI)

Public Outrage and Political Issue

Though the Cuttack Mayor Anita Behera has resigned to save the ‘honour of the CM and BJD president Naveen Patnaik’ and the government suspended three senior administrative officers as a face-saving exercise, the public outrage and raging voice of Opposition has not died down.

Opposition parties are keen to make it a major political issue ahead of panchayat elections next year. Sensing this, the Chief Minister has also directed the District Collectors to register criminal cases against the well-to-do who had procured ration cards and the officials who facilitated the issuance of the cards to undeserving families. Till date, the number of such cases has crossed the three-figure mark.

Snapshot

Fake Ration Card Scam in Odisha

  • Under the National Food Security Act, fake digitised cards have been issued in Odisha to fake beneficiaries which includes members of the ruling party.
  • Eggs emerge as weapon of protest with Congress youth workers choosing to hurl eggs at BJD ministers.
  • After both the Congress and BJP threaten to go to court, the government immediately notified the Information Commission as the Food Commission.
  • Experts question the 3.26 crore beneficiary figure, which is 75 percent of the Odisha’s population.

Politics of ‘Egg Fight’

Assessing the public mood, Congress took to the streets with its youth wing taking an aggressive stand. They have begun what is now being called ‘egg fight’ politics in Puri. On January 3, some youth Congress activists threw eggs at the vehicle of Sanjay Dasverma, Food and Consumer Welfare Minister. His department handles the NFSA program. The very next day, he was again targeted with eggs and tomatoes at Chatrapur, Ganjam.

A similar incident happened on January 5, where the victim was Health and Family welfare minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak at Deogarh. Mass education and industry minister Debi Prasad Mishra was shown black flags in his hometown Cuttack on January 6. And on January 11, Panchayati Raj minister Arun Sahoo was the victim of an egg attack while at Puri when he was returning from Satpada Festival in Chilka.

The police has arrested a dozen youth congress activists in these cases. But it has only angered the young Congress Turks more. While Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra, ex-working president of OPCC was open in supporting this egg fight, many in the party including the present PCC president Prasad Harichandan are claiming that it is violent and not a Gandhian way of protest. But the Congress youth brigade has got unexpected support from former union minister Jairam Ramesh, who in a press conference at Bhubaneswar approved this as a normal political activity.

To counter this ‘egg’ weapon, the ruling BJD has threatened to resort to ‘tit for tat’ tactics and use sticks and stones against Congress workers. The government for its part has raised the security cover of all ministers including Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. It was also decided to keep mum about ministerial visits. To avoid eggs, ministers are advised to take aerial or water routes wherever possible.

Admitting Irregularity

Bowing down before the Opposition and media, the Food and Consumer Welfare minister Sanjay Dasverma admitted that there were some irregularity and the government is taking steps to correct it. In a media interview he said, “After issuing paper ration cards for 23 years, we have initiated the process of issuing digitised cards to 95 lakh households. Over 3.26 crore (over 75% of the total population) people in the state are involved in the process.”

I admit some eligible people have been deprived of the new ration cards while some ineligible persons have been added to the list of beneficiaries. To stabilise the system, we have put in place a mechanism – Ration Card Management System – in all blocks.

Sanjay Dasverma, Food and Consumer Welfare Minister

After both the Congress and BJP threatened to go to court as the state implemented the NFSA without setting up a Food Commission, the government immediately notified the Information Commission as the Food Commission. “We are in the process of framing rules for the state Food Commission. After getting the requisite approval from the Law department, it will be placed before the cabinet. A notification to this effect will be issued immediately after it receives the cabinet approval,” Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare secretary Madhusudan Padhi told the media.

BJP has initiated a poster campaign against the state government over anomalies in the distribution of ration cards. (Photo Courtesy: @<a href="https://twitter.com/BJPOdisha">BJPOdisha</a>/Twitter)
BJP has initiated a poster campaign against the state government over anomalies in the distribution of ration cards. (Photo Courtesy: @BJPOdisha/Twitter)

Hollow Claims

It has also exposed the hollowness of the growth, development and progress claims of the government. Experts question the 3.26 crore beneficiary figure, which is 75 percent of the state population. If for this program 75 percent of the people are poor then who got benefits of progress and development during these 15 years? What explains the investment to the tune of Rs 6 lakh crore, 8.7 percent growth and GSDP of Rs 3,10,810 crore?

(The writer is a senior journalist.)

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