Puducherry: Puducherry LG Kiran Bedi on Saturday landed in a major controversy by ordering that the territorial government’s free rice scheme would be operated in rural areas only after local MLAs and commune panchayat commissioners certify that the hamlets are open defecation free and garbage free by May 31. However, soon after the news spread, Bedi issued a clarification and “withheld” her earlier order, saying she wanted to give more time to the people.
Bedi made her earlier statement in a WhatsApp message to mediapersons after her weekend visits to some villages, where she expressed dissatisfaction over the ‘slow pace’ of implementation of the rural sanitation programme.
“Distribution of free rice to the villagers should be conditional to the certification of the village being open defecation free and free of strewn garbage and plastics,” she said.
Earlier, she had said that a joint certification given by the local MLA and the Commune panchayat commissioner should be submitted to the Civil Supplies Commissioner, adding that the scheme would be kept on hold till then.
She initially gave a May 31 deadline to the authorities to ensure the hamlets are made open defecation free and garbage free. Bedi said that for the last two years, no local representatives or officials of the departments concerned had made a determined bid to make rural Puducherry clean within a time frame.
However, later in the day, Bedi issued a clarification saying, “The intention of my direction in linking rural Open Defecation and cleanliness with free rice distribution is NOT To DENY any poor persons of their entitlement, since I have already sanctioned and directed to provide quality food grains to needy families. And the department is already in the process of procurement and distribution.”
“To avoid misreading of this intention and in view of the forthcoming commitment made by the UT Government that villages in Puducherry will achieve ODF by June end, I am happy to give them some more time. Therefore I am WITHHOLDING my earlier communications,” read the statement.
This came after several political leaders from different parties took to Twitter to criticise Bedi’s order. AAP leader Saurabh Bhardwaj wrote, “Kiran Bedi LG of Puducherry orders that “No Ration” to poor people if villages have garbage/plastics. But Municipal Commisioner and Cheif Secreatary will get full salary.”
DMK leader MK Stalin wrote, “Linking free rice distribution to sanitation goes against the principles of social justice and equality. It violates the Constitutional tenets and defeats directive principles regarding nutrition and public health. I urge @thekiranbedi to withdraw this direction immediately.”
Under the free rice scheme, families coming under below poverty line are entitled to get 20 kg rice every month while those with yellow cards in the Above Poverty line category are entitled for 10 kg rice.
Her order also drew flak from AIADMK legislature wing leader A Anbalagan, who told reporters that Bedi was treading the path of ‘autocracy’ by issuing such directives.
He said it was the duty of municipal bodies and contractors to ensure there was no garbage accumulation. The poor should not be victimised for ‘improper functioning’ of these agencies entrusted with the scheme, he said.
Ever since she became Lt Governor in May 2016, Bedi and the Congress government have been at loggerheads over various issues, including her style of functioning, the swearing-in of three MLAs and medical admissions, among others. The Madras High Court had upheld the appointment of the three BJP functionaries of the Puducherry unit as nominated members of the House.
They were appointed as nominated members by the Home Ministry through its June 23 2017 order.
They were inducted as nominated members by Lt Governor on July 4 last year, triggering protests by the Congress and its ally, the DMK.