For all its targeting, fake ration cards abound
The GPS tracking of trucks carrying ration shop grain and the SMS alerts were supposed to be unique ways in which the Chhattisgarh government had resolved the issue of pilferage of ration shop foodgrains. Once people were informed that the rations had left the FCI godowns and when they reached their ration shops, there was less scope for pilferage. Hardly surprising that, at an overall level, while 11% of rice consumption in 2004 was met from ration shops, this rose to 30% in 2011. For the poor, the jump was more dramatic, from 18% to 48%—from just 2 kg, the ration shop purchases rose to 4.7 kg. In other words, perfect targeting without the Aadhaar-based direct benefits transfer; some simple tools and involving the local community could do the trick. Indeed, the BJP’s victory in the state is largely attributed to the top-notch ration shop operations.
Turns out, an Indian Express expose shows, fake ration cards abound in the state, the most glaring example of which was four BPL ration cards issued in the name of the former chairman of the state’s civil supplies corporation and his daughters-in-law, none of whom have bought rations. In the space of a month, from August to September 2013, when PDS distribution began under the new Food Security Act, Chhattisgarh saw a doubling of the number of poor families, from 33 lakh in August to 65.8 lakh in September. Which meant that, despite the high growth during the Raman Singh years, 94% of its population was poor! Last June, over 14 lakh ration cards were cancelled. But even before the Express broke the scam, the National Sample Survey data showed how futile the ration shop system was. The poor were buying more wheat and rice from the ration shop in well-run states like Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu, but they were consuming a lot less as a whole. For the country as a whole, giving the poor cash subsidies to ensure their effective wheat/rice cost was still R2/3 per kg, means expenditure under the expensive Food Security Act can be cut to a third or a fourth by using direct cash transfers. So, instead of sending SMSs exhorting people to do their bit for the country by, in the case of LPG, voluntarily giving up their subsidised cylinders, why not link LPG connections to Aadhaar numbers and move to cash transfers—oil industry officials believe this will eliminate around 2 crore fake IDs. When the best-in-class solution is available, why use others?