If you have ever wondered why India's public distribution system has failed to feed millions of its poor, here is some help.
On Monday, the civil supplies department of the Tamil Nadu government seized 2,400 tonnes of rice that was about to be transported to New Delhi.
Nothing wrong with that. Trade between states is perfectly legal.
Yet, there was a hitch. The rice was meant for distribution under the PDS in Tamil Nadu. One part was meant for the poor people who queue up at ration shops for their weekly supply of subsidised rice and grain. Another was meant for those who toil at government construction sites under the food for work programme.
The rice was on its way to the Bharat Trading Corporation, Naya Bazaar, New Delhi.
Just to give you an idea about the size of the consignment -- it filled 40 railway wagons! Every wagon contained 1,176 bags, each weighing 50kg. In short, it was a trainload of rice.
Tuticorin District Revenue Officer K Bhaskaran and Divisional Revenue Officer Suresh Kumar seized the rice at the Tuticorin rail yard after receiving a tip-off.
After it was confirmed that the rice was meant for the PDS, they informed the food cell police of the state civil supplies department.
The rice was stored near the Tuticorin thermal power station in a warehouse belonging to the Tamil Nadu Warehousing Corporation, which had been rented for a month by Vinayaga Exports, Kovilpatti.
Around 300 tonnes of rice is still lying in the warehouse. The civil supplies police have begun moving the seized rice to its own warehouses.
A case has been registered against the two firms involved, Vinayaga Exports, Kovilpatti, and Bharat Trading Corporation, Naya Bazaar, New Delhi.
No arrests have been made so far. According to information made available to rediff.com, Bharat Trading Corporation had paid the railways Rs 28 lakh as freight charges for the consignment.
When contacted, the district revenue officer, the district supply officer, and the inspector in charge of the case refused to give any information.
The inspector general of police, civil supplies, has arrived from the state capital Chennai to deal with the case. He too was not available for comment.
But inquiries at the local wholesale rice market yielded some information. The seized rice was apparently bought from three sources. The first and perhaps main source was the PDS. Rice meant for distribution under the PDS was diverted to the open market and then sold to Vinayaga Exports.
The second source was the government-run Food for Work schemes. Contractors involved in such projects are meant to take their workers to PDS shops after a day's work to collect their share of rice. But some contractors paid the labourers in cash and obtained their signatures, which they then submitted to the ration shops and collected the rice meant for the workers. This rice was also sold in the open market.
The third source was auctions organised by the civil supplies department. The department often disposes of rice unfit for the PDS in the open market. Sources said that in the guise of auction of poor quality rice, perfectly good rice is often sold at throwaway prices.
Market sources said Vinayaga Exports dispatched a consignment almost every month through the railways or by ship.