Its use has been restricted to purchase of foodgrains
BANGALORE: The ration card, the poor man's passport to a range of welfare schemes, is set to lose its potency with the Government's decision to restrict its use to the purchase of subsidised foodgrains only. But the State Government, which has thrown the old mechanism out of the window on the grounds that it was prone to misuse, has done so without putting in place an alternative.
As announced in the Budget, the State Government has issued a circular limiting the use of ration cards to purchasing foodgrains from fair price shops.
Earlier, ration cards were used for a range of benefits such as domestic LPG connections, loans from nationalised banks, school admissions and housing sites under the Ashraya scheme.
A senior official in the Ministry for Food and Civil Supplies told The Hindu that with the withdrawal of below the poverty line (BPL) cards, each department would have to evolve its own criteria for identifying the BPL families in the State, a process that is likely to cause delay and confusion.
Minister for Women and Child Welfare H.K. Kumaraswamy told The Hindu that his department would identify the Bhagyalakshmi beneficiaries in 2007-08 under the new income criteria based on National Sample Survey (NSS) data and would probably fix Rs. 18,000 and Rs. 22,500 as annual income, respectively, for identifying BPL families in rural and urban areas. The State Government's decision is in concurrence with a Union Government policy limiting the use of BPL cards to only obtaining foodgrains from ration shops.
"This will increase the burden on the tahsildar's office for issuing income certificates, which is already burdened with the task of issuing caste certificates," said a tahsildar, who did not want to be named. "If it is for government schemes, then the income certificate has to go through another process of verification and be issued through the Deputy Commissioner's office," he said. Until now, people asked for income certificates mostly for enrolling their children in schools, and the demand had mostly been in rural areas, he said.
According to K.S. Vimala of Janavadi Mahila Sanghatane, the new system will translate into further harassment of the poor because they would have to approach the tahsildar's office to avail themselves of benefits under every scheme. "The Government is trying to get away from its welfare responsibilities through yet another ploy," she said.
Isaac Arul Selva of Jana Sahayog, which takes up issues related to urban slums, points out that the Government has no alternative criterion. "Right now a poor person can produce a BPL card and get 50 per cent subsidy on hospital treatment. What is the alternative to that," he asks. He says that the Government is not interested in looking for alternatives because the "final aim is to cut down subsidies" as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act to which Karnataka was an early signatory.