In the upscale Indira Nagar area of Chhattisgarh’s Rajnandgaon district stands the sprawling two-storey bungalow of former BJP minister Leela Ram Bhojwani. Until last December, Bhojwani was also the chairperson of the Chhattisgarh State Civil Supply Corporation, which is the nodal authority for the public distribution system in the state. But the former PDS chief holds a general category ration card, and his three daughters-in-law hold ration cards meant for BPL households.
The cards issued in the names of Bhojwani and his daughters-in-law are among 14 lakh fake ones issued under the state’s much-acclaimed Food Security Act that was enacted in January 2013. Incidentally, Chhattisgarh is considered to be a “model state” for decentralising its PDS system and ensuring minimum leakage of ration supply.
In the space of a month, from August-September 2013, when PDS distribution began under the new Act, the state saw a 100 per cent increase in BPL families — from 33 lakh in August to nearly 65.8 lakh a month later.
For a state that has been claiming a high growth rate in the 10 years of Chief Minister Raman Singh’s rule, 94 per cent of its total households are now BPL, going by the ration cards issued to them. Besides, while the state has only 56 lakh households, under the Act, ration cards had been made for 70.27 lakh households.
While a handful of these forged cards were cancelled by some collectors at the district level earlier, in June this year, the Chhattisgarh government began a systematic verification of the ration cards issued after the new Act came into effect. Within a month, over 14 lakh ration card holders were found ineligible and around 10 junior government employees were suspended.
Under the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act, Bhojwani and his daughters-in-law are not entitled to ration cards. While the three women, who live in the Indira Nagar bungalow, are nowhere near the poverty line and certainly not ‘below’, the Act prohibits several categories of households from carrying even a general ration card, among them owners of houses like Bhojwani’s that are over 1,000 sq feet in area, or households where even one member pays income tax.
But government records say ration was regularly lifted against their cards, month after month. Bhojwani, who doesn’t hold any post in the government now, was the official representative of Raman Singh in Rajnandgaon constituency, from where the Chief Minister’s son Abhishek Singh won his debut Lok Sabha election this year.
“This is all a fraud. I don’t know how our names were included. My family and I have not lifted any ration and we have already asked for a probe into it,” Bhojwani told The Indian Express.
The crisis began after Chhattisgarh enacted the Food Security Act in early 2013 and to capitalise on it electorally, began a massive drive to make new cards just before the November Assembly continued…