State weeds out 2.81 lakh ‘ghost’ ration cards
The Punjab government has suspended 2.81 lakh ration cards of suspected “ghost” beneficiaries who did not avail their wheat quota under the public distribution system (PDS) in the past one-and-a-half year.
These 2,81,566 families, who constitute approximately 8% of the total 35.5 lakh ration card holder households in the state having 10.5 lakh beneficiaries, have not drawn subsidised wheat from any fair price shop in the last three six-monthly – April 2018 to September 2018, October 2018 to March 2019 and April 2019 to September 2019 – distribution cycles under the centrally-sponsored scheme. Their ration cards have been kept in abeyance to prevent leakage.
On an average, around 89% of the beneficiary families have availed their ration in each of these cycles and only those ration cards have been deactivated where the beneficiaries have not turned up to claim their subsidised wheat even once in any of the last three cycles. “These ration cards, which have put in the NER (non-existing ration card) category, have ghost beneficiaries or are duplicate and most of these were made during the previous government. In case any beneficiary that has not taken subsidised foodgrains in last three cycles shows up, their ration cards will be reactivated after a thorough check,” food, civil supplies and consumer affairs minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu said.
Before the biometric-based Aadhaar authentication through 1,570 electronic point of sale (e-PoS) machines was made operational under the “Project for End-to-End Computerisation of Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDs)”, albeit belatedly, in mid-2018, more than 95% beneficiaries were drawing subsidised ration. The weeding out of ghost beneficiaries has resulted in saving of 30,000 tonnes of wheat worth ₹69 crore in each distribution cycle. “There has not been a single offline transaction in the past three distribution cycles as we have made no provision for it. Punjab is the only state in the country with 100% biometric-authenticated transactions during this period,” said the minister. In addition, the department has also identified another 95,000 ineligible families who were availing subsidised ration during verification and cancelled their ration cards.
Under the scheme, 55% population in the rural and 45% in urban areas, which comes to roughly 1.41 crore beneficiaries, are provided subsidised wheat. The department gives 30 kilogram wheat to each eligible beneficiary of “priority households” identified under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) every six months at a subsided rate of ₹2 per kg.
As for the “poorest of the poor” families under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, their entitlement is 35 kg of wheat per household per month. Due to huge subsidy, leakage through a large number of fake beneficiaries and diversion of foodgrains from the PDS was very high in the state.
In a study on “Leakages from PDS and the Way Forward” by the New Delhi-based Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) four years ago, it was found that 46% of the off-taken grain leaked from the PDS till a few years ago. In 15 states, more than 50% off-taken grain did not reflect in the consumption figures. These included Punjab (60.7%), Haryana (70%) and Delhi (82%). The leakage was attributed by various other studies undertaken from time to time to ghost beneficiaries and misuse or duplication of ration cards.
Though the weeding out of bogus cards and ineligible beneficiaries has been made possible by computerisation of PDS database, Aadhaar linkage of beneficiaries and use of e-POS machines, Punjab was among the last states to make the switch. The project for end-to-end computerisation of the PDS from storage to distribution was started in 2012-13, but the state had repeatedly missed deadlines during the previous government.