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INDIA: State government fails to punish corrupt shopkeeper who runs a ration shop in Varanasi

On 7 March 2008 the Sant Ravidas Nagar district government issued an order to dismiss the contract of Mr. Mithlesh Kumar, the PDS shopkeeper of Gohilawn village and to merge this PDS shop with the PDS shop in Arjunpur village, Bhadohi Block which is run by Mr. Mohammad Aziz.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert Case: AHRC-HAC-005-2008

11 April 2008
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INDIA: State government fails to punish corrupt shopkeeper who runs a ration shop in Varanasi

ISSUES: Corruption; right to food; caste based discrimination; failure of law enforcement; threats against a human rights defender; impunity
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), a local human rights organisation working in Uttar Pradesh state, regarding the corruption of the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) shopkeeper. The state government acknowledging the corruption and malpractice cancelled the PDS shop's license but still no punishment according to the law has been given to the corrupt shopkeeper. The shopkeeper is now threatening the local human rights activist working in the village and the rightful beneficiaries of the PDS.

CASE DETAILS:

On 7 March 2008 the Sant Ravidas Nagar district government issued an order to dismiss the contract of Mr. Mithlesh Kumar, the PDS shopkeeper of Gohilawn village and to merge this PDS shop with the PDS shop in Arjunpur village, Bhadohi Block which is run by Mr. Mohammad Aziz. 

The district government stated in the order that Mr. Mithlesh Kumar had not been providing the correct quantity of rations for 12 Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) cardholders and for 9 Below Poverty Line (BPL) cardholders and had made false records on their ration cards since July 2007.

It is reported that Kumar had been distributing 8 kilograms of wheat and 24 kilograms of rice instead of the mandated quantity of 10 kilograms of wheat and 25 kilograms of rice and was also charging a higher price than the set regulated price. The government order further confirms that this infringes Clause 6 (4) and 7 (2) of the Public Distribution System (Control) Order 2001 (as amended in 2004), the Uttar Pradesh Scheduled Commodities (Distribution) Order 2004 and the license agreement.

Clause 6 (4) of the Public Distribution System (Control) Order 2001 mandates "The authority or any person authorised by it in this behalf or any other person, who is engaged in the distribution and handling of essential commodities under the Public Distribution System, shall not willfully indulge in substitution or adulteration or diversion or theft of stocks from Central godowns to fair price shop premises or at the premises of the fair price shop.

Clause 7 (2) of the same Order says "The ration card holder shall not be denied the supply as per entitlement of the essential commodities, lying in stock, by the fair price shop owner under the Public Distribution System."

Anyone breaching these provisions, under Clause 9, shall be punished under Section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act 1955. If convicted under this Section, a person may be sentenced to imprisonment which may range from three months to seven years. Under Section 10-C of this Act, a person who is charged with an offense under this Act, for which requires a culpable mental state on the part of the accused, the Court shall presume the existence of such mental state. But it shall be a defense for the accused to prove the fact that he had no such mental state with respect to the act charged as an offence in that prosecution.

On 22 February 2008, the victims of Kumar's corruption and discrimination submitted a complaint letter to the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM). On February 29, a letter was submitted to the District Supply Officer (DSO) and on 1 March to the District Magistrate (DM). 

On March 4, a Tehsil day was convened where the villages are able to share their grievances with government officials and hand over petitions. This enabled the victims to make a further complaint to the DM and the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). At this point the DM finally ordered an investigation and requested action to be taken. Tehsil is an administrative subdivision in a district.

Even after Kumar's misappropriating of government rations, the government has taken no action to punish Kumar as appropriate under the rule of law or for retribution for the victims.  This has essentially allowed Kumar to continue his corrupt practices and caste based discrimination of the poorest and most marginalised in society. Additionally, the lack of action by the state has also emboldened Kumar to threaten and intimidate the local human rights activist Mr. Brij Lal of the Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) and the beneficiaries of the PDS scheme. Most of these beneficiaries in the village are Dalits.

Threatening and intimidating the member of a Scheduled Caste or Tribe by a person who is not a member of these communities is an offense under the Scheduled Castes and the scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Section 3 (1) (x) of this Act says "Whoever, not being a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe: … intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe in any public place within public view … shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years with fine."

It is reported that since the cancellation of the license for the PDS shop Kumar frequently verbally abuses Brij Lal and threatens to abduct his wife and children.  Brij Lal is also an AAY card holder (no. 7781) from Gohilawn village. Kumar is also denied rations in the month of January and February 2008.

Threatening a person is an offense in law under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Under Section 503 of the Penal Code, "Whoever threatens another with injury to his person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of anyone in whom that person is interested in…commits criminal intimidation."

The punishment for criminal intimidation is prescribed in Section 506 of the Penal Code which mandates the accused, if proven guilty, to be punished for imprisonment for two years or with fine or with both. Since abduction is a crime that mandates seven years of imprisonment, Section 506 mandates that if the criminal intimidation is of committing a crime which is punishable with imprisonment for a period of seven years or more, then the punishment for criminal intimidation of committing such a crime shall also be seven years.

The DSO Mr. Chandra Shekhar who investigated the victims' complaints provided a copy of the investigation report to Brij Lal. The investigation has reportedly concluded that it was legitimate for the PDS shopkeeper to take the rations from the relevant distribution authority between the 23th and 30th of every month and keep the shop open only during these days. This is despite Clause 6 (2) of the PDS control order that mandates the PDS shopkeepers to ensure that the essential commodities are available in the shop in the first week of the month for which the distribution is made.

Mr. Shekhar the DSO, also warned Brig Lal that any further intervention would disrupt Kumar's ration distribution and lead to further complaints from villagers; confirming the government's complete disregard for the implementation of the Essential Commodities Act 1955 that was created to protect the poor ensuring equitable distribution of food grains and other essential commodities throughout the country.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The Public Distribution System (Control) Order 2001 puts down in law that any person who contravenes any provision of the order will be punished under Section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) 1955. This punishment should be imprisonment of no less than three months but may be extended up to seven years and that person shall also be liable to pay a fine.  Furthermore, Session 9 of the ECA 1955 stipulates that if any person makes a false statement in any book, account, record, declaration or other document they shall face imprisonment for a term which may be extended to five years and subject to pay a fine.

Despite legal powers designed to improve the lives of those that suffer severe poverty and malnutrition the AHRC has found that very few cases of malpractice within the food distribution system are punished as laid out in the ECA 1955. This case of Mithelsh Kumar clearly illustrates the apathy and inaction within the government and legal authorities. Additionally, a mere cancellation of the PDS shop's license on complaints and merging it with another shop in the nearby village as it happened in this case means that, from now on the villagers have to travel far distances to get their ration.

Such impunity of those who carry out criminal acts and openly abuse their positions of power enables caste based discrimination to have significant and far reaching effects, increasing the suffering of the Scheduled Castes/Tribes, or those considered 'untouchables' in India, and contributes to the continued neglect of their right to food and to a life free of hunger and starvation.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to the authorities mentioned below expressing your concern about this case and calling for an immediate investigation in order to punish the alleged perpetrators. The AHRC has written a separate letter to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food calling for an intervention into this case.

To support this appeal, please click here:

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SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Please punish the corrupt Public Food System (PDS) shopkeeper in Gohilawn village, Uttar Pradesh

Details of the victims:
1. 12 Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) card holders in Gohilawn village, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh
2. 9 Below Poverty Line (BPL) card holders in Gohilawn village, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh
Name of the alleged perpetrators:
1. Mr. Mithlesh Kumar, former PDS shopkeeper of Gohilawn village, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh
2. Mr. Chandra Shekhar Ojha, District Supply Officer, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh
3. Sub Divisional Magistrate, in charge of Gohilawn village, Uttar Pradesh
4. District Magistrate, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Date of incident: Since July 2007
Place of incident: Khargupur village, within the jurisdiction of Jansa Police Station, Sevapuri Block, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh state

I am writing to express my concern regarding the case of twelve Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) card holders and nine Below Poverty Line (BPL) card holders from Khargupur village, Uttar Pradesh who have suffered from the corruption and caste based discrimination of the PDS shopkeeper Mr. Mithlesh Kumar.

I am aware that Mr. Kumar has prevented the victims from receiving the correct allowance of rations by under weighing, charging prices above the set regulated cost and making false records on their ration cards.  This has been going on since July 2007 and I am deeply concerned that the victim's are suffering increased risk of malnutrition and starvation.

I have been informed that the district government has acknowledged Kumar's contravening the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act of 1955 but have failed to punish him in accordance with the laws.  Such disregard for the rule of law for perpetrators of corruption and caste based discrimination towards the Scheduled Castes/Tribes acts to reinforce not only illegal behaviour but the deterioration of the PDS system, adversely affecting the lives of those who suffer endemic poverty and deprivation.

I am also informed that Kumar has been threatening Mr. Brij Lal, the human rights defender responsible for helping the victim's bring their complaints against him, and has threatened to kidnap his wife and children. I am also informed that Mithlesh has also threatened the beneficiaries of the PDS scheme. Most of these beneficiaries in the village are Dalits.

I therefore strongly urge you to investigate these claims and ensure the perpetrators of the violence, corruption and mistreatment of the Dalit victims and Mr. Lal are punished in accordance with the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and other relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1860 like Section 506.

I further urge you to ensure that a PDS shop starts functioning without any further delay in Gohilawn village, Varanasi district, and would request you to ensure that the licenses are granted to honest individuals who would not duplicate what the earlier shopkeeper was engaged in. I also urge you to initiate an enquiry into the reported acts of threat and intimidation resorted to by MIthilesh against Lal, the human rights activist and other Dalit PDS beneficiaries in the village.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Ms. Mayawati
Chief Minister
Chief Minister's Secretariat
Lucknow
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: + 91 522 223 0002 / 223 9234
E-mail: csup@up.nic.in

2. Mr. Ratan Lal Ahirwar
Minister of Dr. Ambedkar Gramin Samgra Vikas Vibhag
Through the office of the Secretary to the Government
Uttar Pradesh State Government
5th Floor – Lal Bahadur Sastri Bhavan
Lucknow
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA

3. Senior Superintendent of Police
Varanasi, SSP Office, Kachahari
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
E-mail: sspvns@up.nic.in

4. Inspector General of Police
Varanasi Zone
Varanasi District
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
E-mail: igzonevns@up.nic.in

5. Director General of Police
1-Tilak Marg, Lucknow
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: + 91 522 220 6120 / 220 6174
E-mail: police@up.nic.in

6. Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor, Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 655 4413

7. Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi 110057
INDIA
Fax: +91 112 615 0019
E-mail: wfp.newdelhi@wfp.org

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)

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