Thiruvananthapuram: An indefinite shutdown of PDS (public distribution system) outlets by traders has brought to a standstill the distribution of rationed food items in Kerala, forcing the government to consider alternatives.
Civil supplies minister P Thilothaman has written to chief secretary K.M. Abraham, asking him to direct district collectors to take all possible measures to ensure ration distribution. Thilothaman is to hold talks with the striking traders at 2 pm today.
The food department has also directed officials to apply the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) if necessary, in case the shutdown goes on indefinitely.
The traders, who have been refusing to stock up ration goods since November 1, went on a strike Monday. Food department officials said only 355 PDS outlets out of a total of 14,355 in the state worked on Monday.
The striking traders have decided to press on with the closure until a salary package is implemented. The state cabinet is expected to consider the salary package Wednesday. It will involve a Rs 340 crore expenditure, out of which the Center has assured Rs 70 crore, putting the rest of the burden on the state.
Among others a union led by ruling alliance partner CPI's state council member P Krishnaprasad is also involved in the agitation.
The government plan is to implement a salary package for traders as the e-POS (electronic point of sale) machines are put in place at PDS outlets. The Center has asked the states to install the machines at all ration shops to record the finger print of the card holder and the quantity of ration. The deadline is March 31.
In the first phase in Kerala, the machines will be installed in 50 shops in Karunagappally taluk before November 15. It will be extended to other taluks later.
However, the PDS traders insist that the salary package has to be implemented from the day it is approved. They argue that they are eligible for it as food security measures have come into force.