PURULIA (WEST BENGAL): The West Bengal government's policy to distribute free grains for the next six months, amid the COVID-19-induced lockdown, has opened up a can of worms in Purulia district's Jhalda block, where people were found to have mortgaged ration cards in lieu of money.
District authorities, after getting to know about the matter, took prompt action and returned the cards to their rightful owners, an official here said.
Daily wagers in Sarjumatur area of Jhalda block-1, had mortgaged ration cards to moneylenders in exchange of money ranging from Rs 5000 to Rs 30,000, he said.
This has been a tradition in the area.
More than 20 families were found to have deposited their cards with the lenders, the official added.
Talking to PTI, Jhalda BDO Rajkumar Biswas said, "Both the moneylender and the daily wager who mortgaged his card are offenders.
This is illegal, how can someone mortgage government property? As soon as we came to know about the issue, we recovered the cards and returned them to their rightful owners so that they can collect rations.
" The lenders have given us in writing that they would not be committing the same offence again, Biswas said.
According to locals, the poor labourers in the state's most backward region have no other option but to deposit their ration cards for money mostly for emergencies and sometimes to fund his or her daughter's wedding.
"We had no money for our daughters wedding so we had to borrow Rs 10,000 from a money lender, who took our (he and his wife) cards as guarantee.
Last week, when officials visited our place to enquire about ration supply, we told them about our condition, and the very next day they got us our cards," said Gopal Kalindi, a labourer who went jobless following the imposition of lockdown.
Earlier, Kalindi said, he would pay back in instalments but the lockdown, imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, has robbed him of his sources of income.
The story is hardly different for several other families in the village, who on various occasions have taken money from lenders in lieu of their cards and entered into a never-ending vicious debt cycle.
Guna Kuyiri, a local moneylender, said the practice was prevalent in the area for decades.
"Not just me, several others in this locality are into the money-lending business.
The system is that when we give loans, we keep the ration cards and use it to collect grains.
The food grains are then sold in open market to earn interest for the money we have lent.
Once the principal amount is realised, we return the cards," Kuyri said.
The West Bengal government, in an order issued last month, had announced free ration for more than 7.5 crore people in Bengal till September.