Following people's anger and Opposition parties' criticism, Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi on Saturday suspended an order, which said the union territory's poorest families entitled to free rice will not get the grains from next month-end unless they can produce a certificate that their village is open defecation free and cleaned up.
Giving a backgrounder to her direction, Bedi cited poor sanitation condition in rural Puducherry during her visits and to make a turnaround, she directed linking rice distribution to good sanitation in villages.
DMK Working President MK Stalin, in a tweet, released a copy of her letter to Puducherry chief minister V Narayanasamy in which she apprised him that she has directed the director of civil supplies in this regard.
Bedi, in her communique said to inculcate a sense of responsibiity amongst the local community, "we require to cast a duty upon the local community for maintenance of their localities clean and healthy."
The rice distribution "shall therefore be made conditional to the certification that the village is open defecation free and free of strewn garbage and plastics," she said.
"Accordingly, I have issued directions to the Director of Civil Supplies. A notice to the villages be given for a period of four weeks till 31 May to make the villages clean," she said.
Bedi, in her letter, told the chief minister that she was writing to him to bring to his attention the poor sanitation condition in the rural pockets of the Union Territory, "which I was a witness to during my 155th week end visit to Mannadipet village."
She said she was anguished to see the 'slow pace' of rural sanitation despite the efforts made to transform the villages into neat and clean village under swachh bharat mission.
The Lt governor said in rural visits, the community leaders have been "vociferous and proactive," raising various demands.
However, the same "enthusiasm and impatience was not shown by them to actively and earnestly participate in Swachh campaign. It is imperative for the local community to shoulder the onus for the swachh bharat grameen to become a reality," she noted.
The certification that the villages are clean and free of strewn garbage will be given jointly by the MLA and the Commissioner of the Commune Panchayat concerned after which the distribution of rice will be made, she said.
Earlier in the day, Bedi apprised reporters about her move through a WhatsApp message.
DMK working president MK Stalin in his tweet opposed Bedi's move saying "Linking free rice distribution to sanitation goes against the principles of social justice and equality."
DMK's ally Congress is the ruling party in neighbouring Puducherry and Chief Minister is veteran party leader V Narayansamy.
Stalin further said, "It violates the Constitutional tenets and defeats directive principles regarding nutrition and public health. I urge @thekiranbedi to withdraw this direction immediately."
Bedi in her message to journalists said that for the last two years, no local representatives or officials of the departments concerned had made a determined bid to make rural Puducherry clean within a time frame.
Under the free rice scheme, families coming under below poverty line are entitled to get 20 kg rice every month while those with yellow cards in the Above Poverty line category are entitled for 10 kg rice.
Her direction also drew flak from AIADMK legislature wing leader A Anbalagan, who told mediapersons that Bedi was treading the path of 'autocracy' by issuing such directives.
He said it was the duty of municipal bodies and contractors to ensure there was no garbage accumulation. The poor should not be victimised for 'improper functioning' of these agencies entrusted with the scheme, he said.
Ever since she became Lt governor in May 2016, Bedi and the Congress government have been at loggerheads over various issues, including her style of functioning, among others.
(With PTI inputs)