KOLKATA: Nearly a year after ‘plastic eggs’ from Andhra Pradesh scared parts of West Bengal, rubber-like flour disbursed through the public distribution system has created chaos in Kalimpong district with several residents reportedly falling ill after consuming it.
The incident came to light after residents in several gram panchayats of the district including Relli, Seokbhir, Samalbong, Yokprintam and Lolay, complained that the dough made from the flour left residue in the container when boiled, blew up like ‘popcorn’ when put on fire and smelled like burnt protein.
Nar Bahadur Lama, a resident of Seokbhir, said, “When mixed with water, the flour emanates a bad smell and one can only make 250 grams of rubbery dough from the flour of 1 kg.
“Even the chickens and goats are not eating the dough. Several people have fallen ill after eating chapatis made from the PDS flour. There are reports that cattle have died in some villages after consuming it,” Lama added.
He said, “When we approached the PDS shops, they rubbished our concerns and refused to take any action.”
The flour is yet to be sent for forensic tests despite protests at several gram panchayats of the district.
Most of the wheat consumed in West Bengal is bought in from northern states such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. However, it is unclear where the rubber-like flour was brought from.
With almost no wheat production and widespread poverty in rural areas of Kalimpong, a sizeable chunk of the rural population of the district is dependent on food disbursed from the PDS shops, which recently have allegedly started selling products other than prescribed items meant for distribution, including stationery and kirana goods.
“I had fed puris made of the flour from PDS to my children and I am worried now,” said housewife Hira Rai of Samalbong.
Rakesh Giri, a resident of Relli said, “This period of the agricultural cycle is such that most of the villages depend on PDS ration for survival. We will intensify our protests against these PDS shops if the flour distributed by them is not sent for tests and better quality flour not distributed to these shops at the earliest. We cannot wait for people to start getting hospitalized and die.”