Contractors negligent in supply and sales of rice in remote Karnali districtsPeople say contractors don’t transport rice in time and when they do, the grains are of inferior quality.
The Balkuna sale centre of the Food Management and Trading Company Limited in Sarkegad Rural Municipality-1, Humla, was found selling rotten rice two weeks ago. Birkha Tamata, proprietor of the Mugu-based Himal Construction Service, was found guilty of selling substandard rice to the local residents. The Food Management and Trading Company fined Tamata Rs 38,640 and ordered the contractor to compensate with an equal amount of quality rice.
Many contractors involved in the sales and distribution of rice in the hilly regions of Karnali are found to have been negligent with the quality of rice they supply.
Their negligence has affected the local population of remote Karnali districts for years, say locals.
“We are compelled to eat rotten rice every year. We have to walk all the way to the sale centres from our villages only to return with sacks of bad rice,” said Tul Bahadur Karki, a resident of Sarkegad Rural Municipality Ward No 1.
According to him, contractors first make delays in transporting subsidised rice to remote areas and when they do bring rice, the quality is substandard.
Subsidised rice is transported to various districts of Karnali through air and land from Surkhet, Nepalgunj, Dang and Dhangadhi. Some contractors even transport rice to Karnali from Bajura and Bajhang districts of Sudurpaschim Province. The Food Management and Trading Company Limited allows the contractors to directly sell the rice to the local population since several government food depots and sale centres are without employees.
“When we check the quality of rice, we only take a handful but when we get home and open the sack, the rice in the bottom is mostly rotten,” said Lal Bahadur Budha of Kharpunath Rural Municipality-3 in Humla. “We’d have to walk all the way back to the sale centre to return the rice and it’s not worth the trouble, so we throw them away.”
In the remote settlements of Mugu, the transport contractors have the authority to sell subsidised food in the food depots in Shreekot, Pulu and Sorukot and the sale centres in Ratapani and Kalai. These depots and sale centres have been without employees since long. The local residents have complained that the contractors are irresponsible and unfair while selling subsidised food.
“There are no employees of the food office in the depots and sale centres. The contractors sell most of the goods to families with connection. What’s left is bought by the poor people,” said Tsering Kyapne Lama, the chairman of Mugumkarmarong Rural Municipality.
The food depots and sale centres are usually empty these days since the contractors sell all their stock of rice without thinking for sustainability.
“Contractors sell the stock in a hurry and return,” said Dharma Nepali of Soru Rural Municipality-4. “The sale centre does not have rice for us to buy later.”
Lok Bahadur Shahi, chairman of Soru Rural Municipality, said, “We had requested the contractor company to distribute rice in small doses to make it last for a long time. But the contractor did not pay us any heed. Impoverished households have been affected the most since they don’t have the means to buy food in bulk.”
He also added that the rice meant for a particular village has been sold in other villages.
Puskar Bham, information officer of the Food Management and Trading Company, said, “We have handed over the responsibility of distributing rice to the contractor since we don’t have enough employees.” According to him, the Mugu branch of the company has also been transporting rice to Sarkegad and Shreenagar depots of the company in Humla. “There, too, the contractor has been handed over the responsibility to distribute rice.”
There have been a lot of discrepancies in the supply, management and sales of rice in the Karnali region.
In October 2020, police seized a truck carrying 250kgs of subsidised rice at Subbakuna Check Post in Surkhet. The consignment meant for remote Karnali districts was headed to Bhaktapur in Bagmati Province.
Madhav Mishra, manager at the Surkhet based office of the company, however, said that they don’t have the authority to take action against the contractors and suppliers for their carelessness.
“We can only warn them,” he said.
Around 60 percent of rice supplied to Karnali Province comes from Surkhet. The remaining 40 percent of the stock is supplied from Nepalgunj, Dang, Rajapur and Dhangadhi. According to Mishra, they have 33,054 quintals of rice in stock in the province now.
Kamalraj Pandey, chief at the Dolpa depot of the company, said Saldang and Ghargaun depots in the district have started distributing subsidised rice to villagers. “But the rice distribution has been affected due to increasing cold. The distribution will be eased after the end of winter,” said Pandey.