New Delhi: A new study confirms what the Right To Food activists have been crying themselves hoarse about since the past few years — that people are being denied their welfare entitlements, like ration, in the name of weeding out “ghost” or fake beneficiaries, particularly in the case of Jharkhand.
The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (better known as J-PAL) conducted a survey of 3,901 households in 10 districts of Jharkhand. J-PAL is co-founded by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, both of whom won the Nobel Economics Prize in 2019.
Nearly 88% of ration cards that were cancelled around three years ago belonged to genuine households, it found. Only about 12% of the cancelled cards belonged to “ghost” or fake beneficiaries.
Titled “Identity verification standard in welfare programmes: Experimental evidence from India”, the study is by economists Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus and Sandip Sukhtankar.
The 10 districts were selected at random and they had a total of 2,449,610 ration cards — of which 144,161 or 5.9% were cancelled.
The process of cancellation of ration cards in Jharkhand began in 2016 and concluded in 2018 while the BJP was in power.
As linking of Aadhaar with welfare schemes was made mandatory by the central Bharatiya Janata Party government, in Jharkhand it was declared in 2017 that ration cards that were not linked with Aadhaar were to be considered null and void.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Saryu Roy, ex-BJP leader and now independent MLA from Jamshedpur East (who was the state food and civil supplies minister when the cards were cancelled) said:
“I opposed the cancellation of ration cards for lack of Aadhaar linkage and had demanded to know the exact number of cards cancelled and also the reason for which those were cancelled,” he said, adding that no figures or explanation was ever placed before him.
The state has seen a spate of hunger deaths owing to denial of ration, mainly due to problems with Aadhaar-Based Biometric Authentication (ABBA) process.
Activists with the Right To Food campaign had been pointing out that most of the cancelled beneficiaries of the public distribution system—and also other critical entitlements like pension—were bona fide beneficiaries who faced glitches in biometric authentication or in Aadhaar linkage. Majority of these people were not even informed about the cancellation of their ration cards.
On September 28, 2017, an 11-year-old girl Santoshi Kumari died of starvation in Simdega district, after her family’s ration card was cancelled.
In September that same year, the government reportedly announced cancellation of 11.64 lakh cards, deeming them ‘fake’—but lowered the figure to 6.96 lakh in two months.
At least 23 people have died due to starvation in Jharkhand in the past three years.
Newsclick, along with other media reports, has regularly highlighted the issue of massive exclusion of beneficiaries of the welfare schemes of the state.
Biometric failures—especially fingerprint matching—are widely known to be common across the world. Besides biometric failures or glitches, the other reasons for people losing out on their fundamental entitlements since ABBA was made mandatory are incorrect Aadhaar seeding, lack of internet connectivity and charging of the Point of Sale (PoS) machines and corruption on the part of the dealer.