A decade ago, when Shantha, a housemaid applied for her Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration card, she was mired in paperwork. However, the process has now been digitised and made simpler, at least on paper. One should be able to get a BPL card by producing one’s Aadhaar card and an income statement issued by the Tehsildar’s office as most of the applicants aren’t part of a regular payroll system. Applications, with relevant documents attached, can be made online only.
Although online mode of application, increase in private service providers, and the introduction of government initiatives like Grama One and Bangalore One, has simplified the process, there are still pending applications. 2.7 lakh applications are waiting to be processed, according to data provided by Gyanendra Kumar Gangwar, IAS, Additional Director (Vigilance & Public Distribution) and Joint Director (Information Technology). Gyanendra Kumar is responsible for both collection and verification of data.
The department has, in recent times, identified around two lakh Priority Households (PHH) or BPL card holders as ineligible. These card holders include those owning cars, those with more than three hectare dry land in rural areas, and some even had government jobs. As per guidelines by (National Food Security Act) NFSA, households owning four wheelers, or with any member employed with the State or Central governments, PSUs or government aided autonomous bodies and local bodies are ineligible to get BPL cards.
Imposition of penalties, monetary recoveries equivalent to the ration received, and cancellations or changing category of cards to Non-Priority Household (NPHH) category or APL category have been done by the Department of Food, Civil and Consumer Affairs for such fraudulent card holders.
The department has been rigorously doing this verification since 2021. It is an ongoing process, says Gyanendra Kumar. Recoveries worth Rs 1,21,15,284 have been made from ineligible BPL card holders between January 30 2021 and October 31 2022 for Bengaluru alone. This includes both kinds: PHH cards and Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) cards, which are given to the poorest among the BPL households.
Detecting ineligible card holders
The department adopted a systematic approach to tackle such frauds, says Gyanendra Kumar. Government employees were identified using the Human Resource Management System (HRMS) database, and details from the same were cross verified with the respective Aadhaar details. Approximately 20,000 ineligible PHH cards were identified, revoked, and penalties levied.
Further, the department worked together with the Regional Transport Office (RTO) to identify PHH card holders who owned four wheelers for further proof of identity. The list included luxury car owners as well among approximately 12,600 other ineligible card holders. These figures are for the entire state of Karnataka.
For Bengaluru, both urban and rural, the total number of ration cards identified as ineligible between January 30 2021 and October 31 2022, are given in the table below.
|Identified criteria||No. of ineligible cards identified|
|Income Tax Payers||27,989|
|Those who own more than 3 hectare of land||904|
|Those with annual income greater than 1.2 lakhs||1,795|
|Through letters from department offcials||9,502|
|Owners of 4 wheelers||2,681|
PHH card holders are entitled to several welfare schemes provided by the state and central governments. Under the Ayushman Bharat-Arogya Karnataka (AB-ArK) scheme, an Aadhaar linked-PHH card holder can avail up to Rs 5 lakh towards hospitalisation. Reservations at educational institutions can be availed by the economically weaker sections through their PHH cards. Also, there are several housing schemes such as Basava Vasati Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY), and others, which can be availed by Aadhaar linked-PHH card holders.
“Because of the several benefits attached to the card, individuals hide information and obtain PHH cards”, says Gyanendra Kumar. “They usually apply to avail food ration through the card. They use it for other healthcare benefits as well”.
However, Shantha and several others like her, use their BPL ration cards to avail ration only. Venkatamma, a non-teaching support staff in a government school, says: “I have had my ration card for five years now. But I use it to buy my monthly ration only. I pay from my pocket when I visit the hospital.”
According to the NFSA Act 2013, up to 75% of rural population and 50% of the urban population are entitled to receive subsidised foodgrains under the Targeted Public distribution System. According to Gyanendra Kumar, when compared with census data, Karnataka has already reached this cap as per the NSFA Act.
Thus, the department is being more cautious in the issue of new PHH cards as any additional allocation needs to be approved by the Centre, with the state bearing the expenses of these additional subsidies.
“Currently, new applications are essentially coming in from those who were previously beneficiaries and have applied for new cards due to death of the card holder or when a beneficiary marries and starts a new family,” adds Gyanendra Kumar.
But those aren’t the only factors delaying the processing of new applicants. “The website doesn’t function well and the servers are often down,” says Ramesh, a local service provider. “Also, issuance of ration cards is delayed in case of election or any other government activities.”
Ramesh adds that the waiting period post inspection by the officials is at least three months. Though, as per the law, the waiting period to obtain a ration card is meant to be just 15 working days from the date of application.
As explained by Gyanendra Kumar, the approval window is opened periodically and is a regular process. The state government had sanctioned the issue of nearly 1.5 lakh PHH cards equivalent to five lakh citizens in March 2022 and the same has been issued. The state government is looking to close the pending 2.7 lakh applications in the next two or three months.
How to apply for a ration card
- The general public can visit the Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumers Affairs Website http://ahara.kar.nic.in to generate ration cards. Select the e-services menu and the e-Ration sub menu provision where the procedure to generate new ration card can be seen. Click the same and follow the instructions.
- The same can be done through the list of local service providers, which can be found on the website. One can also locate the nearest government agencies such as Grama One and Bangalore One to avail their services.
- Citizens can book a Janasevaka appointment by calling 080-44554455, or download and log onto the Mobile One App, or access it through a link, as well as avail doorstep delivery of government services.
Migrant workers’ plight
With the introduction of One Nation One Ration Card, all NFSA issued ration cards and beneficiaries can avail their food grains across the country. This has proved helpful to migrant workers in the state as they can approach any fair price shop to buy subsidised foodgrains. Further, with the introduction of the Mera Ration app, migrant workers can locate the nearest fair price shop and obtain their ration related information.
However, most migrant workers are unaware of this facility. “We have a card back in our village, but here we buy from the provision store nearby,” says Murugesh, who hails from Tamil Nadu and works in a construction site. “We don’t use our card here”. This is a common comment by migrant workers, whose ration cards are with their families back home. Other migrant workers, like Murugesh, we spoke to are also unaware about the mobile application that can help them avail their ration.
Ganesh, a service provider, says he hasn’t had any migrant workers applying for ration cards or seeking related information in his office. There has been no outreach programme to create this awareness among migrant workers.
Accessibility to various government schemes and services has increased over time with technology acting as a multiplier. “In the last four or five years, the use of IT tools has helped citizens a lot as they are more aware and are enforcing their rights, which is a good direction to move towards,” says Gyanendra Kumar.
However, malpractices and frauds have tainted the system with responsibility resting on both individuals and the state.