Food depot in Mugu empty for months forcing locals to buy rice at higher price

Mugu – Tara Chanda Chaulagain of Kalai village in Soru Rural Municipality, Mugu, has not received any subsidised rice in the past eight months. The Food Management and Trading Company Limited has its sales centre in this remote village of Karnali Province but the centre, according to Chaulagain, has not provided subsidised rice to the locals since March.

“We came to know that the federal government sends subsidised rice to Kalai village every year. But we hardly get the subsidised food grains. We don’t know where the rice goes,” said Chaulagain.

In the absence of rice at the food depot, Chaulagain and other impoverished villagers in Kalai have been buying rice from local traders at a much higher price than they would from the depot.

Kalai, which has around 400 households, suffers from food insecurity. The local food production—mainly wheat, maize and millet—hardly lasts six months, say locals.

The village has a sizable Dalit population and almost all have limited income to see them through the year. “We are always suffering because there’s never enough food,” said Chaulagain.

“There is a sales centre in the village just for the sake of it. We are always waiting for subsidised rice, as it is cheaper than the one that we buy from the market. But the rice hardly arrives here,” said Khummeni Jaisi, a local woman.

The subsidised Aruwa Mota rice and Japanese rice cost Rs 49 and 52 per kilogram respectively in the sales centre of the Food Management and Trading Company Limited in Kalaigaun. Jaisi said she had to buy the same brand of rice at Rs 60 to 65 per kilogram in the local market.

Last week, reports surfaced of a consignment of subsidised rice meant for Kalai village being exported to Bhaktapur in Bagmati Province from Birendranagar, the provincial capital in Surkhet.

“We never see subsidised rice here in the village but we are told that the government allocates subsidised grains to our village every year,” said Panch BK of Kalai. “We had suspected that subsidised rice meant for our village were being sold elsewhere and the recent incident has justified our doubts.”

Security personnel on October 29 had seized a truck carrying sacks of subsidised rice meant for Kalai village of Mugu in Karnali Province to Bhaktapur in Bagmati Province. Surkhet-based Sharma Transportation Service was sending 250kgs of subsidised rice to Bhaktapur instead of sending it to Mugu. The incident is being investigated by the Karnali Province government, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority and the police.

A good quantity of subsidised rice is provided to the food depot in Kalai village every year. According to the data available at the Surkhet Office of the Food Management and Trading Company Limited, a total of 1,800 quintals of rice had been allocated to Kalai in the last fiscal year while 700 quintals were allocated in the fiscal year 2018/19.

In the current fiscal year, the company has allocated a total of 3,000 quintals of rice to Kalai. As of October 21, Sharma Transportation Service had received 1,100 quintals of rice to be transported to Kalai. Two hundred and fifty quintals of the subsidised rice was seized from Subbakuna in Surkhet while being exported to Bhaktapur on October 29. Around 60 quintals of subsidised rice is in a godown of Sharma Transportation Service in Surkhet.

A total of 180 quintals of subsidised rice reached Kalai village after the anti-graft body and the provincial government initiated an investigation into the illegal export and sales of subsidised rice meant for Mugu. However, the recently arrived rice has yet to be received by the food company.

According to an employee at the Mugu Office of Food Management and Trading Company Limited, 330 quintals of subsidised rice has arrived in Kalai and Gamgadhi, the district headquarters of Mugu, in the past week.

“The stock arrived here after the authorities initiated an investigation into the illegal export of subsidised rice meant for Mugu to Bhaktapur. The transportation company might have brought the rice in haste to avoid legal action,” he said, preferring anonymity. According to him, the Mugu office has not officially received the food grains yet.

The contract to supply subsidised rice to Kalai was awarded to Sharma Transportation Service two years ago. Prior to that, in the fiscal year 2018/19, the contract had been awarded to Himal Construction Service of Mugu.

The sales centre in Kalai provides rice to the locals of Kalai, Siddi, Khanaya, Nuwakot, Gilaha and Rum, among other villages of Mugu. School teachers, government employees and security personnel are also dependent on the rice provided by the food company.

The food company has its sales centre at Kalai and depots in Sorukot and Pulu of Soru, a food crisis-hit rural municipality in Mugu. The food company allocates subsidised rice to both the depots every year. But the locals complained that the depots are out of rice most of the time.

Meanwhile, Pushkar Bham, acting chief at the Food Management and Trading Company Limited’s branch in Gamgadhi, claims that the company hasn’t been able to sell subsidised rice to locals due to a shortage of employees.

The district administration in Mugu has also begun investigation into the illegal export of rice meant for Kalai to other districts. “A committee has been formed to probe the irregularity in the rice supply business. We will know more about the malpractice after the committee submits its report within a few days,” said Chief District Officer Krishna Kumar Niraula.