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Alarming rise in stealing food grains from govt depots

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STEALING of food grains from government food depots is capturing headlines in the national dailies almost regularly but there is hardly any information that the thieves; mostly powerful people using political shelter, are facing arrest and trial. A national daily on Tuesday reported theft of at least 33,000 metric tonnes of wheat from government silos at Chittagong Port worth over Tk 90 crore. Investigation report shows traders and food officials had worked together to remove the imported wheat in loaded trucks. The organized theft took place in broad daylight; which people in the neighbourhood believed to be part of regular movement of food grains from the silos.

Surprisingly no government agency is now taking responsibility of the theft although preliminary probe blamed a syndicate of dishonest traders, local politicians, food ministry officials and shipping agents for removing the wheat during unloading before reaching the government silos. Only several weeks ago police had also seized 12 trucks of stolen rice loaded in food directorate's seal sacks in the port city. 

It appears stealing food grains from government godowns all over the country is the easiest way of getting rich for some people overnight. Some law enforcers of different government agencies are also facilitating the theft instead of preventing it however earning bad name for the entire force. It is so unfortunate that unbridled corruption within the food ministry and at all places of the government has become so open and rampant  but people don't understand why the government is not doing enough to stop it. Many believe since powerful people have their hands behind it, the government agencies feel restraint from going into action.

The wheat theft that was imported from South Korea was investigated at least by three agencies such as the Anti-corruption Commission, Special Branch of Police and the Police Criminal Investigation Department. They reportedly found involvement of ruling party men in the scam and no action so far followed. But the question is whether stealing by ruling party men is allowed while it is crime if committed by others. 

Indeed the biggest food grains scandal had hit nation in 2014 when Bangladesh imported huge substandard wheat from Brazil and France. The food minister was openly blamed for importing rotten wheat and it was alleged that there was a huge kick backs involved. But no legal action followed while people were forced to eat the rotten wheat.

We must say most food grains trafficking take place at Chittagong Port during unloading and obviously greater responsibility lies with Chittagong Port Authorities and intelligence agencies to stop it. Bangladesh is importing over a million-tonnes rice soon and not only huge trafficking is feared at the port's unloading points, there are reasons that food ministry officials may also receive huge kick backs. Food import and maintaining the stock are highly vulnerable to theft and if the loopholes can't be plugged, the risks remain too high. Only exemplary punishment can dissuade people from the crime. 

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