Bulk of Jharkhand’s deleted ration cards weren’t fake, study shows

Representational image. File   | Photo Credit: AFP

Almost 90% of ration cards deemed fake and deleted by the Jharkhand government between 2016 and 2018 actually belonged to existing, valid households, according to a new study by economists affiliated to the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The randomised control study found that almost 56% of these deleted ration cards were not linked with Aadhaar. Over the last three years, at least 18 starvation deaths have been reported in Jharkhand due to lack of access to subsidised food, mostly because beneficiaries’ ration cards were not linked to Aadhaar.

The results of the study assume greater urgency and importance as the newly elected Jharkhand government has expressed its intention to restart the drive to delete fake ration cards.

The Jharkhand government — then led by the BJP — had carried out an Aadhaar seeding drive in 2016 and 2017, pushing for ration cards to be connected to the biometric identity in order to improve efficiency and weed out fake or duplicate cards. It had declared April 5, 2017, as the date after which ration cards not linked to Aadhaar would become “null and void”. In September 2017, the State claimed that 11.6 lakh cards had been found to be fake, saving the government ₹225 crore. Later, it downgraded the number of deleted cards to 6.96 lakh.

Limited studies by activists and on ground investigation by journalists, including a Ground Zero report “Death by Digital Exclusion” in The Hindu, had found that many people in Jharkhand had been denied subsidised food due to wrongly deleted ration cards.

The J-PAL study published as a working paper by the U.S.-based National Bureau of Economic Research now confirms this reporting with analysis of an extensive randomised control trial. The paper, co-authored by economists Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus and Sandip Sukhtankar, analysed the effects of requiring biometric identity verification for the subsidised food programme in 10 randomly selected districts between 2016 and 2018.

Government data shows that 5.9% or 1.44 lakh ration cards were deleted out of a total 24.5 lakh cards in those districts. Using a sample of 3,901 cards, the study found that 213 cards or 5.5% had been deleted. Of the 213 deleted cards, 187 cards or 88%, were found to belong to valid beneficiary families. Only 26 cards were “ghosts” or fakes, belonging to families which could not be traced. Of the deleted cards, 115 were not linked to Aadhaar.

“Our results highlight that attempts to reduce corruption in welfare programs can also generate non-trivial costs in terms of exclusion and inconvenience to genuine beneficiaries,” wrote the study’s authors.

Despite the contentious results of the last drive to delete “fake” ration cards, the State government — now headed by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha — may be set to repeat the effort. Earlier this month, the State’s Food Minister Rameshwar Oraon was quoted as having said that there were at least two lakh fake ration cards in the State, which would be cancelled.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 6:55:35 PM |

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