The government’s push to Aadhaar seeding of ration cards and installation of electronic Point of Sale (e-Pos) machines at ration shops has helped the state curb at least 27 per cent pilferage of the highly-subsidised foodgrains.
Till last count, it has led to the removal of at least 5.53 lakh ration cards from the distribution network and saved 1.63 lakh metric tonne (MT) of grains that were being distributed to ghost or ineligible beneficiaries.
Time for strict action against errant ration shops
That the foodgrains from the public distribution net were being diverted is a well-known secret. But the Aadhaar based seeding of ration cards and biometric verification of beneficiaries of the public distribution system has now uncovered the extent of this black market. And it is huge. With a lot at stake, the government must now act against those behind the pilferage. In the past, the administration has been guilty of being lenient on errant ration shops, which has dented the credibility of the public distribution network.
The Mumbai Thane rationing area, which covers areas served by the municipalities in Mumbai and Thane, have at least 4,266 fair price shops. Acting on the Centre’s directives, the state government has equipped all these ration shops with e-Pos machines to ensure that the distribution of the subsidised foodgrains under the National Food Security Act, 2013 takes place only after biometric authentication of the beneficiaries.
Kailash Pagare, Controller of Rationing and Director of Civil Supplies, said the exercise has helped the government save at least Rs 455.6 crore since April 2018, when it was first rolled out. “The clean-up of the database is a continuous process,” he said. Pagare said 97 per cent of ration cards have been linked with Aadhaar in the region.
Consider this, in April 2018, officials said that subsidised ration was supplied to more than 18.82 lakh ration card holders. But by May 2019, the same beneficiary count had declined to 13.28 lakh. In other words, 5.53 lakh ration cards were weeded out of the system. “We suspect that most of these were ghost or ineligible accounts. The foodgrains were being diverted into the open market. Much of it has now been plugged,” said Pagare.
He added that his department will soon embark on another drive to detect all those who were behind this largescale diversion. “We will take strict action against ration shops if they are found to be involved in it as well,” he said.
Families covered under the NFSA get 5 kg allotment of foodgrains — including 3 kg wheat (at Rs 2 per kg), and two-kg rice (at Rs 3 per kg). Only families whose annual income is below Rs 59,000 are entitled to these supplies.
Besides this, the government also provides 35 kg of foodgrains to Antodaya card holders, which are families deemed to be in the poorest of the poor category. In the MTRA region, there are 19,000 Antodaya ration cards.
The department has also made a rule that there will be no carry over of foodgrains to the next month in case a beneficiary does not pick up his allocation for a particular month. Incidentally, the dropout rate of ration card holders was the highest in the Thane civic limit (2.10 lakh), followed by parts of Central Mumbai (1.6 lakh), and Western Suburbs (0.7 lakh). Incidentally, the state is falling short of meeting the target set for coverage under NFSA in Mumbai. While the Centre has set a target of 87.22 lakh beneficiaries (one ration card has an average four to five beneficiaries), the state is presently catering to 83.90 lakh beneficiaries in the Mumbai-Thane rationing area.