Guards at fortress of food must be guarded properly

Updated at 12:10am on September 11, 2018

THE theft of 215 tonnes of rice and flour, meant for open market sales for the poor, from the Central Storage Depot of the Directorate General of Food and the seizure of 100 tonnes of stolen rice and flour from the market, as New Age reported on Monday, bring to the fore the fact that a systemic corruption has been happening in the chain for long, only in a few cases law enforcers could bust such incidents. The Rapid Action Battalion from Saturday night till Sunday afternoon seized 115 tonnes of rice and flour, when eight trucks carrying them, had just left the storage depot at Tejgaon in the capital. The incident took place at night but the depot is not authorised to send out any supplies after 5:00pm, a mechanism thought to stop theft, which apparently did not work. The executive magistrate conducting the drive said that the rice and flour that were stolen were headed for markets in Srimangal, Chuadanga and Gazipur. The law enforcers then raided Krishi Market at Mohammadpur and seized 100 tonnes of rice and flour packed in sacks with the name of the Directorate General of Food imprinted on them from 11 shops.
While the theft of rice and flour is troubling as the poor people are, thus, deprived of the benefits meant for them, especially amidst soaring goods prices, the incident, or a string of incidents of theft of food meant for the poor by way of open market sales and vulnerable group feeding schemes, exposes corruption and mismanagement in the food supply chain and security lapses in the Central Storage Depot. New Age in April this year reported on how rice and flour meant for the poor were stolen and sold on the market. In August, a huge amount of VGF rice was found dumped in a pond in Jhenaidah. In June, 800 kilograms of VGF rice was seized from the market in Magura and 700 kilograms of VGF rice were seized in Barisal. Similar incidents are reported to have taken place in Rajshahi and Faridpur in August. All this suggests that the theft of rice and flour meant for the poor have been taking place apace. And much of the failure lies with the storage depots. In the latest case, the order for no supply from the depot after 5:00pm meant to deter the smuggling of food did not work and it suggests that insiders are involved in all such incidents. The people who conducted the drive also found the evidence of private businesspeople using the Central Storage Depot. This all lends credence to a systemic corruption playing behind-the-scenes.
An investigation is reported to have been instituted immediately after the incident. Now the government should let the investigation run its own course, leading to trial and conviction of all found involved in the process. While the government must investigate other such reported, and unreported, incidents, it must ensure that corruption is rooted out from the system. Similar incidents would, otherwise, keep taking place.