A quirky rice business phenomenon in Nagaland

•    Rice import dwindles but retail booms
•    Boom linked to siphoning of PDS rice

Affiliates seconds CNCCI demand for inquiry and transparency

Morung Express News
Dimapur | March 4

On February 28, the Confederation of Nagaland Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CNCCI) hinted at subsidised rice finding its way into the market. It based the allegation on a quirky market phenomenon that has had rice import into the state, via the open market, dwindling without corresponding reduction in rice consumption as inferred from retail and wholesale sales. 

This would imply a situation of scarcity and price rise, yet, it claimed that rice wholesalers and retailers still get rice at rates cheaper than ever. 

On March 4, the Dimapur Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) supplemented the CNCCI claim, stating that rice imports have reduced by more than half as compared to 5-6 years ago. DCCI President, Akashe Zhimomi, made the revelation at a press conference, on March 4, which was jointly addressed by the CNCCI and its district affiliates, including the DCCI. Affiliates from Peren, Niuland and Chümoukedima also addressed the press conference. 

According to Zhimomi, 5-6 years ago, the rice import amounted to roughly 40-60 train wagons a month, which has dropped to 10-15 wagons a month. One train wagon translates into 650 quintals. 

Despite a perceived import drop, he wondered as to how wholesale and retail sale of rice has not reduced and only increasing. Hinting at unchecked siphoning of state-sponsored subsidised rice meant for beneficiaries covered by the National Food Security Act, he queried, “My question is where the PDS rice comes from? How does it reach the market?” He demanded that the state government must inquire into it. 

Courtesy of programmes like the Antyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY) and Priority Household (PHH) rice, the state Food and Civil Supplies Department provide rice and other essential items at subsidized rates to beneficiaries through a network of Fair Price Shops and through the village councils in rural areas. It is also known as the Public Distribution System or PDS. 

The Peren District Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PDCCI) held that corruption in the PDS is well known but hardly anyone is calling it out. Its President, Haizing Mpom, President PDCCI alleged that a majority of the public have no clue where the subsidised rice is going. He claimed that Peren is allocated around 200 metric tonnes (MT) per month. 

According to the PDCCI Secretary, beneficiaries under PHH receive one kg less than the allotted 5 kg per person. 

The Niuland District Chamber of Commerce and Industry President, Zheito Murumi, added that the beneficiaries in Niuland covered by the same programme also receive one kg less. 

The Chümoukedima affiliate queried how other essential items provided under the NFSA do not reach beneficiaries.   

CNCCI Chairperson, Dr Khekugha Muru reiterated the stand it made in the February 28 statement. He said that the state government must ensure transparency in the dealings of the F&CS in Nagaland vis-à-vis PDS, starting from floating of tender for transport and handling of the PDS items, especially the AAY, PHH and Tide Over Allocation of rice. He said that the Food and Civil Supplies Department “must streamline the distribution of rice and let the benefits reach the poorest of the poor and the other targeted beneficiaries. 

In the February 28 statement, the CNCCI demanded CBI investigation, terming the alleged siphoning of AAY, PHH and Tide Over Allocation as “one of the largest scandals in the history of Nagaland and even in the entire nation.”