Ranchi: A limited study conducted in 10 of the 24 districts of Jharkhand has found that almost 90 per cent of ration cards cancelled by the state government three years ago belonged to genuine households. The study was carried out by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), co-founded by Abhijit Banerjee and his wife Esther Duflo, both of whom won the Nobel Economics Prize in 2019.
A random sample of nearly 4,000 ration cards that were verified revealed that "just over 10 per cent belonged to 'ghosts', meaning households that could not be traced," it said. "In 2017, lakhs of ration cards were deleted in Jharkhand without even informing the households concerned," claims the study, co-authored by economists Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus and Sandip Sukhtankar.
The study, released to the media here, includes an analysis of the deletion of ration cards between 2016 and 2018 in 10 randomly-selected districts of the state. The then state government had claimed that most of the cards were "fake', the study says. Quoting a press release of the previous government dated 27 March 2017, it says, "All the ration cards which have not been linked with Aadhaar number will become null and void on 5th April...nearly three lakh ration cards have been declared invalid."
On September 22, 2017, the then state government had said in a booklet, "The work of seeding ration cards with Aadhaar numbers has started. In this process 11.64 lakh fake ration cards have been found. "Through this, the state government in one year has saved Rs 225 crore which can now be used for the development of poor people. 99 per cent of ration cards have been seeded with Aadhaar."
The study also said that on November 10, 2017, the food department of the state government had clarified that the number of deleted ration cards actually stood at 6.96 lakh, and not 11 lakh. The food department called them 'fake'. The study claims cancellation of ration cards was a trigger for "starvation deaths".
It cited the example of an 11-year-old girl Santoshi Kumari who died allegedly of starvation in Simdega district in September 2007. Her family's ration card had been cancelled due to non-linkage with Aadhaar card. However, the then BJP government in the state had denied reports of any starvation death in the state.
The study says the 1.44 lakh ration cards scrapped in the randomly-selected 10 districts between 2016 and 2018 constitute about six per cent of all the ration cards in these districts. Cards not linked with Aadhaar accounted for 56 per cent of the cancelled cards, and nine per cent of the total ration cards, it says.
Jharkhand Planning, Finance, Food and Consumer Affairs minister Rameshwar Oraon said that verification work was continuing to cancel "duplicate cards" and, if genuine people did not have cards, their names would be included. "Verification is underway. There are nearly five lakh doubtful ration cards and many duplicate cards which have never been used to buy foodgrains.
"Names of people who are entitled to cards will be added in the ration card list, including those whose genuine cards were cancelled. The Food Security Act will be implemented strictly," he said.