On November 18, 2013 residents of Worli BDD chawls, Mumbai gathered for a Public meeting organized by the Worli Committee of Lok Raj Sangathan. The meeting was also addressed by Shri Soheb Lokhandwala, member of the Committee set up by the Supreme Court, New Delhi to monitor the Ration Distribution System in Maharashtra, Shri Shailesh Gandhi, Former Information Commissioner to Central Information Commission, New Delhi and Right to Information(RTI) Act Activist and Shri Bhalerao, President of the Mumbai Ration Distribution Workers Union.
Mr. Mathew from Lok Raj Sangathan welcomed all the residents and speakers. He said the Central Government was making a lot of fanfare about the recently passed Food Security Bill. He said that the Government has made the very arbitrary decision of providing the minimum food cover to only 45% of the residents of the towns and cities. He said this could not be accepted and demanded a universal public distribution system with all items of mass consumption available at subsidized prices at ration shops.
Shri Lokhandwala explained that even the restricted Food Security Bill that was passed was due to the struggle of people and civil rights activists all over India. He said the struggle is ongoing to include people’s organizations such as Lok Raj Sangathan as part of the Government appointed Monitoring Committee to oversee the implementation of the Food Security Bill.
Shri Shailesh Gandhi in his opening remarks asked who the “maaliks” of India are. The people responded by saying it is we the people. He then said that the people must behave like maaliks and not like the ruled in front of the Government to ensure their rights. He said the RTI Act gave ordinary citizens the right to source information for example on what happens to the ration that is allocated to the residents. He also explained how this can be done. He promised to personally help the residents to get this information in case of any problems they encountered.
Then Com Mathew showed samples of food that were being offered to the residents in some shops in the area and asked how could any shop keeper or Government Ration Department allow such poor quality to be offered to human beings when even animal would not eat the same?
Shri Bhalerao said that the food stocks available with the Government were of good quality and such types of food as was shown would never be given by the Food Supply Department. He asked the residents to write complaints in the Ration shops and the Ration Department would be forced to take action against the errant shop keepers.
Ms. Kusum of Lok Raj Sangathan then denounced angrily the collaboration between the Government Ration Department and the shop keepers and said that the shop keeper is the last rung in a chain that extends right from the top officials of the Ration Department of the Government down to the shop keeper. She also said that it is only the united struggles of the residents that could ensure that they get ration of good quality. She denounced the Government for passing a Food “Security” Bill which should be called the Food “Insecurity" Bill, since major items of consumption of the people such as kerosene, sugar, dal, cooking oil had been completely eliminated in the latest bill, whereas previously these items were to be supplied by the Government at affordable prices.
A lady resident came forward and explained how a delegation of nearly a hundred women under Lok Raj Sangathan had gone to the local Ration office in Worli to protest the inadequate and poor quality of supply of ration, and the Officer in charge had called her aside and asked for her home details and promised to specially supply the items to her house! She denounced angrily this offer of the officer in his face and told him that she had not come here only for herself. She told the gathering that such behavior by the authorities would result in people taking the law into their own hands and the Government would be squarely responsible for this.
The meeting ended on a militant note with all the residents signing a memorandum to the Ration Office listing their complaints.