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‘Centre is The Referee’: Kiran Bedi on Stand-off Between L-G & Puducherry CM over Free Rice Scheme

File photo of Lt Governor of Puducherry Kiran Bedi. (Image: Reuters)

File photo of Lt Governor of Puducherry Kiran Bedi. (Image: Reuters)

Bedi said three MLAs nominated by Centre and other BJP party leaders have raised serious allegations against the state government, which are currently being scrutinised by the chief secretary.

New Delhi: Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi and Chief Minister V Narayanasamy have once again locked horns — this time, it is over the implementation of the free rice scheme in the Union Territory. Bedi turned down a plea from a Narayanasamy-led delegation for the distribution of free rice, sticking to her decision to deposit cash into the bank accounts of beneficiaries. In an exclusive interview to News18, Kiran Bedi says she has referred the matter to the Centre and the Union Home Ministry will take a final call.

You tweeted saying that by the direct transfer of money, lakhs of beneficiaries of free rice will get Rs 160 crore directly into their bank accounts without any leakages, cost of distribution, tenders and contractors. Has a decision been taken so far or are you throwing your weight behind direct cash transfers?

In case of a difference of opinion between the state government and the Lieutenant Governor, the central government is the referee. I have sent the matter to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Centre will take the final call. I have asked the elected government to transfer monthly entitlement by Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) forthwith and the Civil Supplies Minister has agreed to do so.

I have already mentioned the reasons for this as a few of them are mentioned in the question itself. However, to point out a few, there are widespread allegations, such as the absence of proper accounting systems, bogus cardholders, fair price shops not functioning properly, selling of rice, lack of accountability and transparency in management systems, among others. These issues lead to the benefits not reaching the people.

Is your decision triggered by the allegations of corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS) in Puducherry?

Financial approvals are given by me. Whenever files were sent to me to settle the bills in the last three years, invariably I asked and reminded the government to use DBT to eliminate pilferage, the supply of food grains unfit for human consumption, etc. I had alerted them that from this financial year on, it shall only be through the DBT mode. Hence, it ought not to have come as a surprise to them.

The Legislative Assembly of Puducherry has moved a resolution effectively asserting its right to distribute free rice instead of cash. Don’t you feel this will put you on a collision course with the elected government again?

The resolution was passed by the Legislative Assembly after I had already asked the Centre to resolve differences. The three MLAs nominated by the Centre and other BJP leaders have raised serious allegations against the state government; those allegations are under the scrutiny of the chief secretary. His report is awaited.

The people behind the Right of Food Campaign have advocated that the money transferred through DBT could also be used for other purposes. Wouldn’t you agree this is a valid argument?

Under the National Food Security Act, the central government releases monthly entitlements to BPL beneficiaries via DBT in Puducherry. People are happy and there is not even a single complaint against it. Food grains are available in open market in the Union Territory in abundance. DBT gives people the freedom to choose food grains and they need not depend on ration shops, which are kept open only for a few days. Complaints of bad quality rice and shortage of measurement can be avoided completely. There are several and serious complaints against the distribution mechanisms, which are now under inquiry.

What checks and balances do the government have to ensure that the money is not diverted for purposes other than the one it is meant for?

This question puts the beneficiaries in poor light. DBT is an approach that puts faith in the people’s capacity to decide their priorities. However, if anyone needs any help, there is a grievance system in place, including the Open House Session of the Raj Niwas that is being adequately used and trusted.

What about the other entitlements under the PDS? In your opinion, should they be also converted into direct cash transfers?

There is no shortage of supply of food grains and cereals in the free market of Puducherry. No other items are being distributed under PDS here.

In your opinion, it is possible for Lieutenant Governors and Governors to act impartially and not be beholden to the party that appointed them? Can you substantiate with examples?

The roles and responsibilities of Governors and L-Gs are well defined under the Constitution. Even though the elected government at the Centre nominates them, it is the President who appoints them. All decisions have to pass the tenets of laws, which are open to judicial scrutiny.

There were face-offs between you and Narayansamy. Finally, the Supreme Court asked you not to interfere in the functioning of the state government. In retrospect, do you feel you could have handled things differently? Is there a lesson there for other L-Gs and Governors here?

The MHA has filed an appeal before division bench of the Madras High Court and the matter is sub-judice.

(Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind) Kejriwal and you were close during the Jan Lokpal agitation. So many years down the line, is there anything you would want to tell him? How has he been performing as chief minister?

I do not need to tell anybody. The leadership has to listen to their own inner voice as to whether they are being true to the higher purpose of the responsibility they sought in the first place.

first published:September 13, 2019, 17:26 IST