CNCCI demands thorough CBI probe into alleged PDS rice scandal

Dimapur, February 28 (MExN): Citing frequent exposure of "rice polishing and packaging of PDS rice" in local media, the Confederation of Nagaland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CNCCI) today demanded the immediate initiation of a thorough CBI investigation into the issue.

To justify its demand, the Confederation cited the availability of cheaper rice from an unknown source in Nagaland and the non-transparent process of awarding contracts for Transport and Handling of Priority Household (PHH), Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), and Tide Over scheme. 

It could be one of the “largest scandals” in the history of Nagaland and even in the entire nation, held CNCCI in a press release from its Media Affairs.

Thus, it makes its stance "clear" to the Food and Civil Supplies (FCS) department that the CNCCI "will not remain a mute spectator but will protect the business community and the public whom we serve and bring the matter to a logical conclusion."

According to the Confederation, several complaints were received from the business community regarding the issue, prompting it to take cognisance and look into the matter. 

The release implied that upon inquiry, the CNCCI was shocked to learn that many PHH rice transporters to districts have not been allocated October 2022 rice for transportation despite depositing money with the department for lifting rice meant for the poorest section of Nagas.

In a letter of query to the Department, the department misinformed the CNCCI that the beneficiaries have received their due allotment but contradicted itself by stating that the money has been refunded to the transporters, it alleged. 

The CNCCI has sufficient proof that the transporter has not received the money from the department, it added.

However, it maintained that even if the money is refunded, the bigger question is the whereabouts of the rice, unless the "poor beneficiaries across Nagaland came to Dimapur FCI depot to take their rice."

Based on its findings and response from the FCS department, the CNCCI expressed concern that the rice meant for the poor section of the state may have found its way to rice polishing and repackaging units and then to the retail market.

"No wonder that the import of rice by the business community has gone down drastically while the consumption of rice has increased as per the retail and wholesale market with ever-increasing population," it maintained.

Surprisingly, while rice production is meagre in Nagaland and import of rice is dwindling, yet the retailers and wholesalers get rice at cheaper rates in Dimapur through a few rice mill owners who polish rice and repackaging, the Confederation further alleged. 

This has led to an almost monopolistic state of the rice market, which is against the principles of the CNCCI and the business community of Nagaland, it added.

It further expressed concern that poor beneficiaries in Nagaland may be purchasing their own subsidised rice from the market at a higher price and termed it 'totally unethical.'

Meanwhile, the CNCCI stated that the FCS department in response to its query has stated that selling Public Distribution System (PDS) rice in a market is illegal. 

Accordingly, the Confederation "sternly" warned that stringent action would be taken against any business establishments found selling, polishing, and packaging PDS rice.

Further, the CNCCI directed all the District Chamber of Commerce to strictly be vigilant of those unethical practices.

The Confederation further informed that it had urged the FCS department to float open tendering process for all three PDS schemes, asserting that the current approach lacks consistency and transparency for the majority of beneficiaries. 

However, it claimed that the department has only initiated an open tender process for the PHH scheme, neglecting AAY and Tide Over and perpetuating previous irregularities.

In this connection, the CNCCI reminded the FCS department that a “piece meal and face wash steps is not acceptable” and demanded the immediate cancellation of the tendering process for PHH and called for simultaneous tenders for all three schemes: PHH, AAY, and Tide Over.

Else, the CNCCI will not hesitate to express its displeasure across the State, it added.