Imperfections of a perfect model del
Chhattisgarh's much appreciated public distribution scheme is falling apart due to corruption and mismanagement
The critically acclaimedmed public distribution scheme me in Chhattisgarh is crumbling undernder the weight of mismanagementment
AS CHHATTISGARH prepares for panchayat election at the end of the year, the fate of ration card holders in the state is in limbo. During a verification drive in July-August, the state government found almost 1.3 million “unnecessary” ration cards in the possession of people. These cards have been taken back by the government and people are being refused supplies of daily essentials. No wonder “verification” has become a dreaded word among the beneficiaries of the public distribution scheme (pds), a largely successful model of food security in the country.
“We had to surrender our cards to the government functionaries during satyapan (verification). While lists available with fair price shops still show our names, we do not get any ration.As a result, we have to buy the same commodities from the open market at
20 per kg,10 times more than the subsidised ` rate,” says Basmatiya Devi, a 65-year-old woman from Tirkela village in Chhattisgarh’s Surguja district, where a large number of cards were recalled.
Even before pds took the form of an Act at the national level, it acquired the status of a political movement in Chhattisgarh. In 2007,Congress leader Ajit Jogi who took up the poor performance of pds in his campaign won the Kota Assembly by-election by a huge margin, defeating the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp), which was in power in the state. Alarmed at losing ground to Congress, Chief Minister Raman Singh involved a battery of bureaucrats to reform the food distribution system.In 2012,the administration passed the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act under which foodgrains (rice, wheat and millet) up to 35 kgs are sold at subsidised rates to families living below the poverty line (bpl) and distributed ration cards so that people could avail the benefits. With this, Chhattisgarh became the only state in India to have its own food security law a year before the National Food Security Act came into existence in September 2013.
With the passing of a national Act, the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections in December 2013 were fought around strengthening food security for the 5.6 million households in the tribal-dominated state. bjp retained power and continued with pds. It went a step further and created Centralised Online Real-Time Electronic pds, or corepds—a first in India—which allowed beneficiaries portability to buy foodgrains from any fair price shop with the help of a smart ration card (see ‘Is this smart pds?’ on p17). More than five million bpl families in the state have benefited from this scheme.
But its success seems to be short-lived. With corruption creeping into the state’s pds, hailed as a model by the Supreme Court, and the government scrambling with its management, the robust food security mechanism is crumbling under its own weight.
On the one hand, the government has decided to give subsidy to a third of the state's farmers, on the other it has recalled the ration cards of 1.3 million PDS beneficiaries
Thorns in a perfect model
Problems with Chhattisgarh’s famed pds started with the distribution of ration cards. While official census showed 5.6 million households in the state, more than 7 million ration cards were issued at the start of 2013. The law recognises “household” as a family with a common kitchen, as opposed to the Census definition.When Singh returned to power, he faced the daunting task of managing 7 million beneficiaries of pds.
According to Rajiv Jaiswal, director for pds in Chhattisgarh, the government received many complaints about bogus ration cards from the gram panchayats and municipal councils. “There was a sudden surge in the number of bpl households, bringing down all the indicators of growth.So we felt the need to verify it,” he says. The result: 1.3 million fake ration cards were identified, which were recalled by the government. Towards the end of August, municipal and government offices in the state were flooded with applications of more than 0.3 million pds beneficiaries, requesting the government not to recall their cards.
Uncertain days ahead
Umesh Baghel works as a cobbler in Sanjay Nagar locality of Raipur.He has to support a family of five. Umesh was told by the surveyors that he was put in the Above Poverty Line (apl) list. He does not understand why he was put in the apl category when he barely makes 40 a day.He
` now relies on his sister Lata to bring him ration. “His wife works as a domestic help and earns barely 2,000 a month while he
` earns 40 a day. Which category should he be
` in?” asks Lata.
Patrosh and Mary Karketta of Tirkela have similar woes. Their ration card was cancelled on the ground that their son works in the Indian Army and, hence, they do not fall in the bpl category. Without the ration card, the couple has been buying essential supplies from the open market for the past four months. Gangaram Praikra, a state-level coordinator for the Right To Food campaign working with the non-profit Chaupal, says that ration cards of older couples or single parents were recalled in many places when it was found that their children were employed in government jobs.
Before things took an ugly turn, Chhattisgarh’s food security framework under pds was working well. A study by the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi earlier this year found that 63 per cent of the deliveries to fair price shops from the state’s warehouses were made within a week’s time from the day the demand was made to replenish the stocks. Estimates prepared by the state government show that the number of trips made by a beneficiary to a fair price shop was reduced to two compared to 4-5 times prior to the adoption of corepds. Meanwhile, the commission for the owners of fair price shops was increased from 10 per cent to 25 per cent of the total sales, while extending interest-free credit facilities to the beneficiaries. After the verification drive, portability of the smart ration cards was suspended, says Sangeeta Sahu, coordinator for the Right to Food campaign in the capital city Raipur.
Ration card holders in Chhattisgarh are being refused foodgrains by fair price shop owners, forcing them to buy essential commodities from the open market at a higher price