Alarm bells must have started ringing in the Prime Minister’s Office as well as the food and civil supplies ministries of various state governments after the Civil Supplies Department of Karnataka unearthed last week a racket linking fictitious Aadhaar numbers to generate thousands of bogus BPL cards.
The scandal came to light when senior department officials raided fair price shops in Bengaluru. It was found that invalid 12-digit numbers were linked with bogus ration cards while in other specific cases, single Aadhaar numbers were seeded with multiple fake cards.
Random checking in Bengaluru alone has so far revealed 45,000 bogus cards belonging to about 300 ration shops, and similar reports have trickled in from other parts of Karnataka like Mysuru, Hubballi, Dharwad and Tumakuru.
The Karnataka government has begun filing criminal cases in what appears to be only a tip of the iceberg. It should be a matter of enormous concern to the Centre because the NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has identified Aadhaar as the single most effective tool to deliver food grains, fertilizers, kerosene and LPG subsidies to target beneficiaries with minimum leakage.
About 60% of all ration cards across the country have already been linked to Aadhaar and the Centre had claimed recently that the government had made a saving of Rs 13,000 crore after detection of 2.16 crore bogus cards. A confidential study made by the PMO had revealed that out of Rs 2.11 lakh crore spent on various subsidies, there could be a net saving of Rs 33,000 crore by way of plugging leakages.
While other states will hopefully take a cue from Karnataka and conduct their own investigation on possible misuse of Aadhaar numbers, reports from across the country suggest that efforts to eliminate or minimise the gross plundering of PDS are far from a success. Lakhs of fake ration cards have been reported from Jammu & Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh. Chhattisgarh was touted as a ‘model state’ until recently as it was the first to fully implement Aadhaar-based biometric authentication.
It involved installing point of sale machines at every ration shop for verifying the identity of cardholders by matching their finger-prints against Aadhaar database. But, last month, the anti-corruption bureau of the state conducted raids in several places and seized cash and documents showing coded diary entries of payoffs to officials and politicians.
The Congress has accused the Raman Singh government of indulging in a multi-crore scam, but the chief minister has denied it. The Centre itself should get involved in the investigation of misuse of Aadhaar cards, as its stakes are pretty high, with the Supreme Court yet to give its consent to make it a mandatory document.