Why Chennai’s ration card holders are unhappy, despite PDS revamp

Fake ration cards

The issue of bogus ration cards is an important concern reported across India, and the central government has announced that ration cards may no longer be used as legitimate proof of identity and residence at the passport offices from April 2016. According to the Department of Food and Civil Supplies, a total of 11.14 lakh new family ration cards have been issued while 3.38 lakh fake cards were identified and cancelled across Tamil Nadu during the period from June 2011 to November 2014.

According to a report published in 2012 by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), there were 8.37 crore people availing family ration cards while the population of the state is 7.21 crores as per the 2011 census! As many as 195.83 lakh ration cards were issued in the state whereas the number of houses were only 167.77 lakh, that which means there were 28.06 lakh bogus cards.

While family card holders who have more than one LPG connection at home are not entitled to PDS kerosene, the CAG report also pointed out that over 50% of the cards did not have stamps indicating the number of LPG connections, making identification difficult. Incidents of diversion of PDS commodities supplied to FPS as well as re-selling or commercial use of commodities availed through FPS are also reported across the country including Tamil Nadu.

According to the Civil Service Department, the process of weeding out bogus cards would be complete with the digitization and issuing of smart PDS cards, which is currently underway.

Functioning of FPS

People from many areas in the district have been complaining of discrepancies and corruption in the functioning of ration shops, and allege that no action has been taken to make the PDS accessible. Residents from many areas including Kodambakkam, Villivakkam, Thambaram, Egmore and T. Nagar say that the ration shops distribute goods only for 8-10 days every month, and most often they have to get rice, sugar, kerosene and pulses from regular shops at higher prices.
“The ration-shop owner says that only food items for 850 families are available at the shop, and we are turned down most often,” says Selvi M. a shop-owner from Akbarabad Street, Kodambakkam. According to Selvi, those who complain are not given PDS commodities for several months, and hence no one dares to open their mouth.

Like S. Devi from Nanganallur, residents from many areas also complain about the quality of the commodities supplied at FP shops. Though electronic weighing machines are provided at these shops, the measurements are tampered with according to the complaints. Pointing to pilferage and black marketing, B. Muthukrishnan, a vegetable vendor from Kodambakkam says that the quantity of food grains and oil distributed were invariably lesser than what was displayed on the weighing machine.

“When asked, shop owners tell us that they cannot do anything as they have to make up for the loss of grains during transportation. Perhaps, distribution of pre-packed goods would prevent such malpractices at distribution points,” he suggests. However, the TNCSC claims that “efforts are made to monitor the movement of stocks from Food Corporation of India depots to TNCSC Ltd taluk godowns and then to PDS outlets. Route charts are followed in the movement of goods from Taluk godowns to shops which are being inspected by various teams.”

According to the TNCSC, cardholders can purchase the commodities in installments according to their convenience. The stock of each commodity should be displayed at the FPS and samples should be kept on display. Supplied commodities that are below acceptable quality or have deteriorated in quality after being supplied to FPS should not be sold to cardholders. The salesman should take in the stock on time and make sure that there is no stock-out period. However, complaints from cardholders from across the district reveal that the salesmen at FPS do not comply with these instructions from TNCSC.

“Most of us are daily wage labourers. The commodities are available only during the beginning of the month and most often, there are long queues. Sometimes we have to forego the day’s wage, waiting in the queue to avail our monthly quota at the PDS,” says Rani S. from Villivakkam. “During afternoons, the shops are closed for 2-3 hours,” she adds.

The TNCSC instructs all FP shops to be open from 8.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and again from 3 p.m. – 7.p.m.(in Chennai and its belt areas). If the salesperson has to leave the shop at any other hour, due to any emergency, it is his/her responsibility to keep the card holders notified through the notice board of the next opening of the shop. Part-time shops should display the days and time of functioning. Cardholders should not be kept waiting unnecessarily and should be served within 30 minutes at the latest.

Sometimes, it is the delay in floating bids to procure food grains that results in unavailability of required amount of PDS commodities at FPS. Amutha S from Thambaram says, “We did not get urad dal this month. The salesperson said that those who got it last month would not get it this time. The quantity and quality of commodities as well as the service is poor. Getting basic committees from the PDS is really a hassle for people like ourselves, from lower income groups.”

Salesmen however say that they only follow instructions from the government officials. “We supply the grains depending on the stock available. We are told that all the services will be computerized soon, and this will help inform customers about exact stocks available,“ says a salesman at a ration shop in T.Nagar.

About Nileena MS 23 Articles
Nileena is an alumnus of Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. She has a deep and abiding interest in civic and development issues. Nileena can be reached at nileenams@gmail.com

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