BJP-led Jharkhand govt’s audit finds direct transfer of food subsidy a failure

A Jharkhand state government audit has confirmed findings of an earlier Right to Food campaign survey that its pilot scheme for DBT for purchase of food grains was causing enormous hardship

Photo courtesy: Twitter.com/dasraghubar
Photo courtesy: Twitter.com/dasraghubar

Ashlin Mathew

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Jharkhand government had launched a pilot Direct Benefit Transfer scheme in October 2017, whereby below poverty line (BPL) beneficiaries would receive money in their account for purchase of food grains from Public Distribution System dealers. The scheme has proved a dismal failure, as around 25% of the cardholders did not receive the subsidy.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das had launched the pilot scheme at Ranchi’s Nagri block despite opposition from various social groups. Under the scheme, instead of simply buying rice at ₹1 per kg at the ration shop, the PDS cardholders would receive the subsidy (calculated at ₹31.60 per kg) in their bank accounts, and then they could buy rice at the ration shop at ₹32.60 per kg. The pilot covered around 12,000 cardholders and 52,000 beneficiaries, with the eventual aim of replacing subsidised rations with cash. The Jharkhand government planned to extend the scheme across the state, if it succeeded.

In February 2018, a survey conducted by student volunteers of the Right to Food campaign in 13 randomly-selected villages of Nagri Block revealed that the pilot scheme was causing enormous hardship to the people of Nagri. An overwhelming 96% of the residents wanted to go back to the earlier system.

Under the DBT system, people have to collect their food subsidy in cash from the bank before using it to buy rice from the ration shop at ₹32 per kg. Earlier, they were able to buy rice from the ration shop at ₹1 per kg.

Despite several protests, the government continued with the project. Unconvinced by the Right to Food campaign survey, the Jharkhand government decided to complete its own “social audit” of the pilot by the end of March and take a decision soon after that. The audit was completed in April 2018 by the Social Audit Unit of the Jharkhand government’s Rural Development Department.

A survey conducted by student volunteers of the Right to Food campaign in 13 randomly-selected villages of Nagri Block revealed that the BJP-led government’s pilot scheme was causing enormous hardship to the people of Nagri, Jharkhand. An overwhelming 96% of the residents wanted to go back to the earlier system

However, the government did not release the report of the audit and a copy was subsequently obtained through the Right to Information Act. It confirms the survey conducted by student volunteers of the Right to Food campaign in February.

The audit teams surveyed about 70% of Nagri’s ration cardholders. The teams interviewed 50 of the 59 ration dealers of the block. Of a total 8,370 ration card holders, it was seen that 86.1% of the ration card holders had some kind of transactions where as 13.1% did not have any kind of transaction. The average transaction per card was only 3.8 in more than six months.

It was found that only 23.1% beneficiaries have received DBT five times in the last six months where as 13% did not receive the money and thus subsidised ration even once. And 5.9% beneficiaries have received DBT only once in last six months. The card holders had to spend an average of 13.1 hours to procure ration, but around 82.2% had to spend a little less than 24 hours to get ration while there were at least 8.4% of the residents had to spend more than 24 hours to procure their ration.

Confirming the Right to Food campaign survey, around 97% of Nagri residents favoured the previous system, while only 2.4% feel that DBT is a better option. In fact, the finding was validated in the gram sabha meetings. At least 38 gram sabhas were held in 46 villages of 13 Panchayats. Eight villages were not covered as it has been notified as an urban area. A total of 36 gram sabhas unanimously said “No to DBT”, preferring the pre-existing subsidised food grain distribution system. Only two gram sabhas said DBT is acceptable and that too only when the operational system was completely reformed.

Thousands of aggrieved people from Nagri had walked from to the Governor’s house in Ranchi to demand to the discontinuation of DBT in favour of the earlier system on February 26, 2018. Yet, the government has not withdrawn it.

However, it has been reported that the Jharkhand government wrote to the Central Government requesting permission to discontinue the DBT pilot in Nagri. The letter argued that this pilot violated the National Food Security Act (NFSA). But, then why was it implemented? No one has an answer.

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