The number of people claiming benefits reserved for the poor using the so-called BPL card in some states, such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, exceeds the total number of households.
In other words there are more BPL-card-holding families than the total number of households in the state. And that means people who need assistance — such as low-cost grain — don’t get their share of it.
To be sure, this is not a new trend, but the latest data — as on March 31, 2009 — with the food ministry indicates that the situation has worsened. This is significant in the context of the government’s food security agenda. The implementation of the food security bill without a clean-up would imply largescale leakages.
The BPL card helps obtain benefits under the government’s poverty alleviation schemes as well as to access cheap foodgrains from the public distribution system, subsidised health insurance and scholarships.
According to data from the ministry, in 10 states at least one in two households held a BPL card. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra, the proportion of BPL cardholders to total number of households was 142% and 120.20% respectively.
The number of BPL families is estimated by the Planning Commission based on surveys every five years by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). Based on the 61st round of NSSO, the Commission classified 28.30% of rural households as BPL.
However, states don’t restrict their benefits to households classified as BPL and often issue additional cards.
“When you have ended up issuing more BPL cards, then it implies that you cut back on allocations,” says N.C. Saxena, who chaired the committee set up to identify BPL households in rural India.
The other issue, says another expert, is cards for households that aren’t exactly poor.
“It’s a known fact that in a lot of places the number of BPL cards exceed the population, which suggests the issue of bogus cards,” said Y.K. Alagh, former member of the Planning Commission.
Not surprisingly, the empowered group of ministers, set up to draft the food security bill, has linked the grant of the entitlement with a reform of PDS.
The Saxena committee too had sought to streamline poverty identification norms to eliminate misuse. The criteria identified for automatic exclusion includes: having one family member working in the so-called formal economy; families that have double the district average of agricultural land held per household; owning a motorised two-wheeler, borewell or mechanised farm equipment; and paying income-tax.