March 03, 2024

Puducherry: Persisting Struggle for Reopening Ration Shops

S Govindarajan

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THE Puducherry CPI(M) state unit has initiated a prolonged and widely supported struggle on February 19, 2024. The coalition government of NR Congress and BJP has persistently refused to reopen ration shops across the state since their electoral victory in 2021, causing significant distress to the poor, downtrodden, and middle-class people of Puducherry. The total population of the state is 15 lakhs.

Out of the 3,52,382 ration cards issued, 1,60,211 are red ration cards (allocated to below poverty line families), and 1,66,142 are yellow ration cards. These cards entitle the holders to essential commodities such as rice, which are distributed through 515 ration shops.

Due to the coercive pressure from the BJP-led central government, the NR Congress and BJP government introduced the Direct Beneficiaries Transfer (DBT) scheme in 2015, replacing the distribution of rice with money. However, following strong protests by the CPI(M) in Puducherry, the provision of rice was reinstated. Subsequently, after the Congress government's electoral victory, despite their vehement opposition to the DBT scheme, the then Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi, in collaboration with the Modi government, forcefully reintroduced the DBT Scheme.

During the release of the BJP poll promises bulletin for the Puducherry state assembly election in 2021, union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman assured, "We will introduce mobile ration shops instead of the existing stationary ration shops for people's convenience." In her Republic Day celebration speech, the then Lt. Governor Tamilisai declared, "We will upgrade the existing fair price shops at Karaikal into supermarkets." Additionally, chief minister N Rangasamy, during his assembly speech on March 27, 2023, proclaimed, "I will definitely reopen all the ration shops." Unfortunately, these promises proved to be hollow, akin to letters written on flowing water.

Upon assuming power in 2021, the NR Congress-BJP double engine sarkar, discontinued even the existing Direct Beneficiaries Transfer (DBT) Scheme. Following a strong protest by the CPI(M) in Puducherry, they were compelled to reinstate the DBT payments.

The public distribution system serves as a crucial mechanism to ensure food security for the poor, downtrodden, and lower-middle-class people. In 2013, the UPA government promulgated the Food Security Act with the aim of providing guaranteed food to those in need. It is essential to note that at that time, the BJP supported this Act. The Food Security Act is designed to fulfill the basic need for food, a fundamental right for every human being, as recognised by the United Nations.

Regrettably, the NR Congress-BJP alliance government has neglected even these essential needs, thereby harming the welfare of the marginalised sections of society. There is a saying that echoes the sentiment that if a turtle enters a house, that family will face a downturn. Similarly, the entry of the BJP into state politics is perceived as leading to retrograde development, with the alliance partner losing political influence among the people.

Starting from the year 2018, red ration card holders (allocated to below poverty line people) were entitled to receive 20 kilograms of rice, while yellow card holders (for above poverty line individuals) received 10 kilograms. However, over the past six years, the cost of rice has witnessed a significant surge, as outlined below:



Low-quality rice per kg

High-quality rice per kg







In the present scenario, it is no longer possible to buy 20 kilograms of rice for Rs 600 and 10 kilograms for Rs 300 in the open market, given the continuous and steep rise in rice prices. This escalating cost of rice has resulted in the residents of Pudicherry being deprived of the food security guaranteed by the Act. The absence of ration shops not only affects the availability of rice but also impacts the access to other essential commodities such as pulses, sugar, and palm oil for the people in the region.

          The PS Palayam hamlet is positioned between Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, with people living on both sides of a single road. Those living on the Tamil Nadu border along the road have access to all essential commodities through fair-price shops. However, residents on the opposite side, situated along the Puducherry border, face the distressing reality of receiving nothing, witnessing the injustice perpetrated by the NR Congress-BJP coalition government. This plight is mirrored in the suffering of those residing in the border areas of Karaikal, Mahe, and Yanam.

Remarkably, Puducherry stands out as the sole state in the country where the universal public distribution system of essential commodities has been permanently halted, leading to the closure of all ration shops. This abrupt stopping has had severe consequences, with over 1000 ration shop employees losing their jobs and resulting in the suicides of approximately 16 of them. The profound impact on livelihoods and the tragic loss of lives underscore the gravity of the situation in Puducherry.

The Puducherry state government is compounding injustice for its people by refusing to procure paddy from the Karaikal area during the paddy harvest season. In stark contrast, the neighbouring Nagapattinam area has seen the Tamil Nadu government appropriately procuring harvested paddy. Adding to the burden, the introduction of GST to essential commodities like rice has further exacerbated the situation. The complete halt in the procurement of harvested paddy and the disruption of the distribution of crucial food items, such as rice through ration shops, are contributing to an intolerable surge in prices, resulting in a looming famine.

Instead of addressing this crisis by reopening ration shops, the Puducherry government has chosen a contrasting path by establishing over 100 bars, transforming Puducherry into a state with a permanent alcohol influence. This shift in focus raises concerns about the government's priorities and its impact on the well-being of the people, especially in the face of pressing economic and food security challenges.

In response to the numerous injustices and anti-people activities of the Puducherry government, the state unit of the CPI(M) organised a series of popular struggles, including seminars, demonstrations, rallies, dharnas, and picketing. On February 19, G Ramakrishnan, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, declared the Party’s decision of holding a sustained, prolonged dharna, demanding the immediate reopening of all ration shops to provide essential commodities to the people.

During the first-day dharna, presided over by Ramji, secretary of the Uzhavarkarai subcommittee,  R Rajangam, the Puducherry State CPI(M) secretary, detailed the issues and explained the successive step-by-step struggles conducted by the Party and its mass organisations. The second-day dharna, chaired by MP Mathivanan, secretary, town subcommittee, and the third-day dharna, presided by Anbumani, secretary, Mannadipet subcommittee, received felicitations and support from prominent figures such as DMK state party secretary Siva, CPI secretary Saleem, CPI(ML) central committee member  Balasubramaniyan, Dhiravidar Kazhagam president Veeramani, and Nanneer Paadhugaapu Eyakam representative, Gopal.

Every day, CPI(M) state executive members delivered elaborate speeches to engage the hundreds of participating people. The fourth-day dharna, jointly presided over by Ramamoorthy, secretary Villianur subcommittee, and P Saravanan, secretary Bahour subcommittee, was addressed with enthusiasm by G Ramakrishnan. Simultaneously, the Puducherry state assembly budget session commenced and concluded within an hour, without discussing any burning issues affecting the Puducherry people, including the reopening of ration shops.

Disheartened by the unproductive legislative assembly session, the dharna culminated in a sudden national highway picketing, resulting in the arrest of 200 picketing comrades, including G Ramakrishnan.

The CPI(M) cadres and its mass organisations are determined to persist in their struggles. They will continue these ongoing efforts until their just demands for the reopening of all ration shops throughout the state and the distribution of essential commodities to the people in Puducherry are met.


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