Monday, August 21, 2006

A Glow in Their Lives

A constant refrain of ration cardholders in the weekly meetings at the Information Center of SNS was that they were getting little or no kerosene oil at oil depots meant to distribute subsidized oil under the PDS. Safe in the net of the corruption nexus in the system, the shopkeepers were opening their depots to the cardholders only twice a month instead of six days a week. Women and children had to make innumerable futile trips to the depots only to find them locked.

On the rare occasion when the depots did open for a short while peole used to be blatantly refused oil on the pretext that it was in extremely short supply. Anyone who protested would be abused and bullied by the shopkeepers who were openly selling the subsidized kerosene oil at lucrative prices in the black market (kerosene oil is available at Rs 9 per litre under the PDS as opposed to Rs 27 per litre in the open market). Not surprising then, that there was no oil left to be distributed to the poor cardholders for whom subsidized kerosene was the only source of fuel since other sources were unaffordable.

Ration cardholders finally decided they had had enough when Fatima Begum, a BPL cardholder, was doused with kerosene for demanding her full quota of oil (SNS had informed people about their rightful entitlement of oil under the PDS). With the help of SNS volunteers, in a mass whistle-blowing exercise against corruption in the PDS, local residents lodged 54 complaints with the Food Commissioner against two kerosene oil depots in the area who were notorious for selling their quota of kerosene oil in the black market.

A departmental inquiry was ordered into the matter but no further action followed. Finally, cardholders filed an application under the Delhi RTI Act seeking a copy of the daily progress report of the action taken by the department on the 54 complaints lodged. As soon as the RTI application was filed, the department got into action and hurriedly began investigations. Show cause notices were served to the two shop keepers and their security worth Rs. 5000 each was forfeited.

The penalty, though not too large, has had a near miraculous effect on the two kerosene oil depots. “The two shops now open more often and distribute the correct amount of oil to us – the shopkeepers constantly assure us that they would continue to behave themselves and request us not to complain against them or file RTI applications seeking information about their shops” remarks a visibly elated Fatima Begum.

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