In India, the need for food security and subsidies for the large masses is very high. The common man depends largely on the ration cards that provide him subsidised grains, sugar, oil, and other needs of day-to-day life.
According to a 2013, Haryana State Government report, there are about 12,84,000 ration cards in use in the state. The state population according to the 2011 census is 2,53,50,000. The vast disparity between the numbers of people holding ration cards is the first big concern. The numbers issued neither pertain to individuals in the state, nor to the number of families or households, nor to the number of people living in poverty. In 2012, it was deemed that about 56 lakh families in the state are eligible for smart ration cards. It seems that the issuance of ration cards to the people of Haryana has been arbitrary and depends on the target of individual schemes or Yojanas rather than providing state-wide benefits.
The problem of issuance of bogus ration card came to be highlighted when in March 2014 news reports exposed a ration card with the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's name while he is a valid resident of Assam. Thousands of such bogus ration cards are believed to be in circulation across the state. Ration cards of dead family members continue to be used without updation of records for many decades.
The issuance of bogus ration cards stems from corruption rampant in the system. Ration cards authorise the holders to avail of subsidies on all items of basic necessity. Kerosene oil, an essential fuel, available on a subsidised rate through fair-price ration shops, is used by many small-scale and household industries. Bogus ration cards come as a bonus to the owners of these commercial enterprises and the intended recipients the poor of the state are deprived.
In 2013, state government records say that the Targeted Public Distribution System covered about 23.34% population in rural areas and about 17.9% population in urban areas. Widespread malpractice and ration card frauds along with corrupt and unethical practices followed by the fair price shop owners result in the benefits reaching only a fraction of this reported beneficiaries.
The state government of Haryana will need to adopt a targeted approach to resolve the various issues involving ration cards in the state. With increased internet penetration, registrations and records of ration cards should be available online for effective database maintenance. The best way to avoid duplicity and erroneous issuance of ration cards is to link them with birth and death records in the state. The streamlining of ration card records in the state shall require an effort similar to the census. This is, however, a much required effort given that the cards act as the poor man's gate pass to food subsidies and as a much required address proof for the residents of the state.
The state government's apathy towards this major concern is disconcerting. The issue must be addressed at the earliest possible opportunity, a Naya Haryana with equitable distribution of basics and targeted benefits must be allowed to grow.