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‘Bulk of Jharkhand’s deleted ration cards weren’t fake’

18 died due to starvation in the past three years

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.

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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. In September 2017, the State claimed that 11.6 lakh cards had been found to be fake, saving the government Rs. 225 crore. Later, it downgraded the number of deleted cards to 6.96 lakh.

Limited studies 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 now confirms this reporting with analysis of an extensive randomised control trial. The paper 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.

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