Almost 90% of the ration cards that the Jharkhand government declared invalid between 2016 and 2018 belonged to real households, a study by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab revealed on Thursday. Almost 56% of these deleted ration cards were not linked with Aadhaar. The study comes at a time when the Jharkhand government is reportedly preparing for another round of mass deletion of ration cards.
According to some estimates, 23 deaths due to starvation and non-availability of subsidised food grains were reported in Jharkhand between 2015 and 2019. One of the cases Scroll.in reported on was that of an 11-year-old girl in Simdega district who died of starvation in October 2017, months after her family’s ration card was cancelled because it was not linked to their Aadhaar number. Last June, the state government directed the Latehar administration to exhume the body of a 65-year-old man for autopsy following allegations that he starved to death.
In 2017, the state government, which was then led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, had declared lakhs of ration cards invalid, claiming that most of them were “fake”. The state government had set April 5, 2017 as the date when all ration cards that had not been linked to Aadhaar would become “null and void”. The government first said this order led to 11 lakh ration cards being cancelled because the cardholders had not furnished their Aadhaar numbers. The number was later revised to 6.96 lakh.
The study, co-authored by economists Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus and Sandip Sukhtankar, analysed the ration card deletion process in 10 randomly-selected districts of Jharkhand between 2016 and 2018. It found that 1.44 lakh ration cards were deleted in these 10 districts.
The study said a little over 10% of the deleted ration cards belonged to households that could not be traced. Such households accounted for “at most 3% of beneficiaries”, according to the study.
According to Jean Drèze, development economist and visiting professor at Ranchi University, the state government has never officially released any list of deleted ration cards. “The criteria that were used to delete ration cards in Jharkhand are obscure,” he said. “This lack of transparency and accountability makes the entire operation all the more objectionable.”
Countless reports by activists and journalists, including Scroll.in’s Identity Project series, have documented the disruption in India’s public distribution system on account of Aadhaar. Across states, the poor are struggling to authenticate themselves by scanning their fingerprints each time they go to the ration shop. In many cases, their fingerprints are too worn out to register on the fingerprint scanning machines. Often, the internet connection fails. The result is that they are unable to access the foodgrains they are legally entitled to under the National Food Security Act.