Use technology to ensure transparency in PDS

Jammu & Kashmir Government implemented National Food Security Act 2013 (NFSA) also called Right to Food from April 1, 2016. The decision on NFSA was taken by the then cabinet headed by Chief Minister Late Mufti Mohmmad Sayeed soon after he took over as CM in 2015. On being asked whether NFSA will be implemented in J&K in toto without a legislation as the law could not be directly implemented during that time in view of article 370, the then Chief Minister had said “The central act would be implemented (in toto). It is applicable everywhere. There is no problem in (implementing it here). We have been providing food to people in J&K as per 2001 Census but now food will be provided to people as per 2011 Census benefiting lakhs of people,” 

National Food Security Act (NFSA) or Right to Food is said to be a people-friendly law targeted to benefit disadvantaged & marginalised communities of the society. But again there are black sheep who loot people under the garb of this food programme. Government claims that under NFSA highly subsidised ration @ Rs 2 (atta) and Rs 3 (rice) is provided to maximum chunk of population – around 75 lakh people in J&K and another 45 lakh people get ration @ Rs 8 (atta) and Rs 10 (rice) which covers more than 95 per cent of the population. Under the old law people used to get 35 kgs or rice per ration card but under NFSA this was changed to 5kg rice per person per month. This means a family of 4 is entitled to get 20 kgs rice only,  while as under the previous system even a 3 member family would get 35 kgs of ration every month. This discrepancy led to protests in Kashmir valley during the enchantment of NFSA.

On the other side NFSA has some advantages as well as the rate of ration is very minimal Rs 2 / Kg for Wheat Flour (Atta) and Rs 3/ Kg for Rice for BPL and PHH.  Now the question arises whether these benefits have actually reached to the deserving people or not ? When we undertook a pilot survey in one single village in District Budgam, the results were shicking which for everyone as Below Poverty Line families (BPL) were provided subsidized rice on exorbitant rates (Rs 15 or 16 / Kg). Ironically these families were enlisted as BPL or Priority Household (PHH) beneficiaries on the Public Distribution System (PDS) online portal.


Exposing a scam

                When the Government was distributing free ration amid COVID 19 pandemic some time back, one, Sonaullah Sheikh of Bonen village in Chadoora was given less amount of rice by the Government storekeeper. He got in touch with our local RTI activist Mushtaq Ahmad Lone who after a search on an online portal found Sonaullah was registered as an 8 member family while he was given rice for only 7 members. Free rice was supplied @ 5 kgs / person with no 35 kg upper limit. Sonaullah was supposed to get 40 kgs rice but was given 35 kgs only. Mushtaq recorded the statement of Sonaullah on his mobile phone and the video was sent to Assistant Director (AD) Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs (FCS & CA) Budgam. AD Budgam suspended the storekeeper, but Mushtaq’s video had by that time gone viral. He started getting calls from other villages. Mushtaq got in touch with another activist Adv Nazir Ahmad, a lawyer by profession from Loolipora village in Chadoora. We did a sample survey in the village. Mushtaq cross checked some 13 ration cards of Loolipiora. These families had been provided temporary ration cards named F-APL  by the local storekeeper with stamp and seal of Tehsil Supply Officer (TSO), but when the detail was obtained from online data all these poor consumers, they were actually listed as Below Poverty Line (BPL) or Priority Households (PHH) for last more than 4 years. Under BPL / PHH the families were entitled to get Rice @ Rs 3 / Kg and Atta Rs 2 / kg only while they were being provided rice @ Rs 15 or 16 / Kg i.e. 5 times more than the actual price.

Advocate Nazir Ahmad, Mushtaq Ahmad and one more activist Naseer Ahmad did a village survey and within a week they found 50 families which were registered as BPL / PHH but were sold ration on exorbitant rates for almost 5 years. Each of these poor  families had been deprived of Rs 45,000 to 50,000. The matter again was brought into notice of AD FCS & CA Budgam by Mushtaq Ahmad after he recorded Akhtar Hussain’s statement who was given a fake ration card while he was supposed to get subsidized rice under PHH category. AD Food (FCS & CA) Budgam didn’t take any action this time.  Adv Nazir Ahmad and his team also met with him some weeks back but he instead discouraged them and spoke negatively about RTI law and all that alleged Advocate Nazir. Finally I brought the matter into notice of Mr Simrandeep Singh IAS , Secretary to J&K Government Food Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs. He directed the constitution of an investigation team led by Mr Fayaz Ahmad Joint Director FCS & CA Kashmir and an Additional Secretary of the department. Joint Director came to village Loolipora on June 9th and senior members of RTI Movement led by Syed Nasarullah were also there. Locals even raised slogans during that public hearing alleging a lot of bungling in ration distribution. The Joint Director is supposed to submit his report by June 19th to the Government. Local media gave good coverage to this whole scam and we are highly thankful to them.

Not just Loolipora


For the last many days we are getting phone calls and messages about similar scam in other villages and towns. Even in Srinagar city there are many poor families who are not provided BPL or PHH ration cards and we believe that they would be enlisted as BPL or PHH in an online list. Many ladies who have been married or people expired are not deleted from the ration card holders list. Even children as young as 12 years of age and unmarried persons have been enlisted as ration card holders. This is done only to get more ration from Food Corporation of India (FCI) and selling the extra ration in black-market. Imagine a ration for which Rs 3 per kg  is deposited in the Govt treasury, Ration Depot Storekeeper takes Rs 15 or 16 from consumers and saves Rs 12 or 13 from 1 single kilogram of rice. How big a scam this would be across Jammu & Kashmir ?  We are trying our best to get more details from other areas but i would suggest that an in depth investigation needs to be undertaken by a sitting Judge of J&K High Court of J&K Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB)

About Ration Portal
                For almost 11 years I have been urging upon the authorities to make voluntary disclosure of information by digitizing the official record and uploading it on Government websites. This is also mandated under section 4 of RTI Act 2005 as well. In the majority of cases J&K Govt has failed to make proactive disclosure. In the past we tried to get the details of BPL ration card holders using the Right to Information Act (RTI) but in many cases the information was either denied or misleading information was provided. But after the whole Public Distribution System (PDS) data got digitized almost 5 years back one can get accurate details from a cell phone by clicking on to www.jk.epds.nic.in. After this click on MIS & Reports link on the left hand side of the page.  Then open Reports link and finally click on Ration card Drill down report. One can get district wise details and from districts one can obtain circle and village / mohalla wise information of ration card beneficiaries. 

Conclusion
                I would urge educated youth to check the Government Ration Card beneficiaries of their area and see who are enlisted as AAY, BPL or PHH  and then go to such families and see if they are getting benefits of this scheme or not? RTI Movement volunteers are always ready to assist such public spirited people . Pl feel free to contact me on my email ID bhatrajamuzaffar@gmail.com. Let us ensure disadvantaged communities are not looted by Food Department officials. The only way to ensure transparency in the entire public distribution system is to wake up and make use of technology. I would also request philanthropic organisations, Baitul Maal and NGOs working on providing ration to poor families to work on this issue as well. If some of their team members can assist people to get subsidized ration that would be more beneficial for poor families. An NGO or Baitul Maal cannot always support such families , but if we ensure they get their legitimate right under Right to Food that would be a sadaqa al jariya… perpetual charity.