The Jharkhand government’s hastily rolled out National Food Security Act (NFSA) suffered a major blow after several incidents of multiple fake ration cards being issued to the same person surfaced, creating a dilemma for dealers under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
Jharkhand rolled out the ambitious NFSA in haste from October 1 this year, entitling more than 2.33 crore people of the state’s total 3.29 crore population to 5 kg rice and wheat every month at the subsidised rate of Re 1.
With alleged pressure from the state government, the Department of Food and Public Distribution prepared and digitised ration cards in haste to set the scheme rolling. As a result, thousands of fake cards were released without check.
The extent of the problem can be gauged from the case of Chittaranjan Mahto, a resident of Bundu block in Ranchi district, in whose name 366 ration cards had inadvertently been issued by the district supply office, which entitled him to an extraordinary 1,830 kg of food grains from five different PDS dealers a month.
However, Ranchi supply officer Manoj Kumar termed it a technical error: “We have withheld the excess cards. In bulk publication of ration cards, there is always a chance of error of at least 5%.”
Mahto is not the only one to have multiple cards issued — there are thousands of beneficiaries in Jharkhand under the newly introduced NFSA who are enjoying more than one ration card in their name. The Ranchi district supply office alone has reportedly prepared 7,000 duplicate cards.
“We are really confused. Some of the beneficiaries are holding more than one card with different serial numbers. We lift food grain on the basis of ration cards registered with us. Now, we are in dilemma whether a beneficiary will get ration for one or more cards,” said Sanjay Kundu, a PDS dealer in Ranchi.
Kundu, also the state general secretary of Fair Price Dealers Association, added that fake ration cards have deprived many genuine beneficiaries of their rights.
Sexagenarian Lajrus Bara, a rickshaw puller, is one such victim. A resident of Ward No 10 in Ranchi, Bara was a Below Poverty Line (BPL) cardholder under the previous system. However, he is left running from pillar to post to get the digitised card under the new system.
Gopinath Ghosh, a Ranchi-based human rights activist, said, “We have hundreds of names of such people who had BPL cards in the earlier system but are not even enrolled under the NFSA.”
The department of food and civil supplies has so far detected more than 17,000 fake ration cards just from Hazaribag and Ranchi districts. “The fault was detected by our team and we have restricted the distribution of duplicate cards. More than 10,000 such cards were withheld in Hazaribag. Other districts have also detected such faults,” department secretary Vinay Kumar Choubey said.
The department is now linking ration cards to Aadhaar card numbers to eliminate duplicity. “We have linked around 70 lakh beneficiaries with Aadhaar, though the process has partially slowed down due to the ongoing panchayat election,” Choubey said.