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‘Direct benefit transfer’ pilot project for food subsidies turns a burden in Jharkhand

Under DBT system, beneficiaries are required to collect food subsidy in cash from their bank and then buy food grain from local ration shops at market price

india Updated: Feb 15, 2018 07:47 IST
Sanjoy Dey
Sanjoy Dey
Hindustan Times, Nagri (Ranchi)
Direct Benefit Transfer scheme,Jharkhand,Food subsidy
Septuagenarian Deventi Devi goes to the bank on a motorcycle to withdraw food subsidy in Ranchi. (Diwakar Prasad/ Ht photo)

Septuagenarian Deventi Devi visited her bank, 6km from her village, thrice this month to withdraw her food subsidy credited by the government in her account under the Centre’s direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme. She returned empty-handed each time because the bank said the subsidy amount had not been credited.

This practice has become a routine affair for the old lady ever since Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das launched the state’s first pilot for the direct transfer of food subsidy in Ranchi’s Nagri block, 20km from the capital city, last October.

The pilot covers around 12,000 cardholders and 52,000 beneficiaries, and seeks to replace subsidised rations with cash. It is the biggest pilot of its kind; smaller pilot projects for such transfers, covering up to a thousand people, have been launched in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Under DBT system, beneficiaries are required to collect food subsidy in cash from their bank and then buy food grain from local ration shops at market price, which is around Rs 32 per kg. Until now, they used to buy the same from the ration shop at Rs1 per kg. A visit to the villages where the project is operational underlines the problems people face in getting the subsidy and then the ration. In most cases, people claim there is no SMS alert about the money being transferred, leading to multiple visits to the bank.

Read more | Govt saved Rs 56,000 crore through Aadhaar-enabled DBT, says PM Modi in Dubai

In some, the money is transferred into the account of a child within the household while the ration can be procured through the finger impression of some other person in the family.

Deventi, who suffers from a hearing impairment due to old age, is ferried to the bank on a motorcycle, as there is no other transport facility in her village.

“We spend at least Rs 20 worth of fuel on each trip to the bank to withdraw a meagre Rs 1,106 food subsidy for six members of the family. We have to visit the bank three to four times every month to get the subsidy,” said her son Bigul Mahto, 55, a vegetable grower. There are other issues too. “Since my thumb impression is registered with the biometric system in the PDS (ration) shop , I had submitted my bank account under the DBT system. But the subsidy amount is credited into my mother’s account. I don’t know how,” he adds.

Bedridden Asha Tirkey, 43, deprived of her disability pension since June 2015, at Kota village, said, “We did not get ration last month as the subsidy is yet to be credited to my 18-year-old daughter’s account.” While the amount is credited to her daughter’s account, the biometric machine at the PDS shop accepts her husband’s thumb impression.

Tirkey’s husband, Manmasih, 47, said they discovered this by accident while investigating why the family wasn’t receiving subsidy. “I found the amount is being credited to my daughter Anupa Tirkey’s account at Canara bank in Simalia, 6km from my village.”

Read more | Maharashtra government’s direct benefit transfer initiative fails

District supply officer (DSO), Ranchi, Narendra Gupta explained that “if a person or family has multiple bank accounts, the subsidy is automatically credited to the account which is linked last to Aadhaar.”

Economist Jean Dreze, spearheading the Right to Food campaign in Jharkhand, said, “DBT has turned to be a burden for beneficiaries in Nagri. People are forced to spend huge amounts of time and money to collect their subsidised food rations. The poor, the elderly and those living in remote areas are the worst affected.”

Dreze, who has been member of Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council, said that findings of their recent survey revealed that 97% of ration card holders in Nagri are opposed to DBT. Hindustan Times couldn’t independently validate this

First Published: Feb 15, 2018 07:38 IST