BPL cards have reduced to being mere political gimmicks
The issue of access to food supplies at subsidised prices for people below the poverty line is being addressed by India’s federal government through their much touted Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards. In the same light, Food Minister KV Thomas attempted a turnaround last year by introducing a key National Food Security Bill to be enshrined as law. Apart from food grains, BPL cards promise to provide subsidised kerosene through 500,000 fair prices or ration shops across the country. The food subsidies have carved a massive 10 per cent of total government expenditure (Union Budget 2011-12) – a gigantic increase from 2 per cent in 1990s, which is linked with BPL cards.
Even after sinking in so much money for BPL card holders, its issuance and implementation is plagued with undeniable discrepancies. According to NCAER in 2007, there was an excess of 23 million BPL cards in terms of number of BPL families in India and the number of BPL cards issued! Another survey by Transparency International along with Center for Media Studies (CMS) in India revealed that merely two-third of the BPL households possess BPL cards. In 2004-05, a humongous 50 per cent of BPL category segment was not provided with BPL cards, according to three surveys conducted at that time viz. National Sample Survey, National Family Health Survey and India Human Development Survey.
For all its efforts, the government has initiated its flagship programme called Targeted Public Distribution Scheme where BPL cardholders will get subsidised food and other eatables from the ration shops. In this context, our finance minister himself has lambasted the programme, “About 58 per cent of subsidised grains do not reach the target group, of which a little over 36 per cent is siphoned off the supply chain...” The anomalies in BPL cards distribution are many. In Gujarat for instance, Congress has voiced its protest against the incumbent BJP government of channelising thousands of bogus BPL cards and incurring losses running into thousands of crores. In Warangal in Andhra Pradesh, several BPL cards have been issued to people earning between Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 a year, sparking controversy! Most astonishingly, a man who has paid Rs 3.46 crores to obtain liquor license has been issued one BPL card! In Karnataka, out of 1.2 crore families present in the state, 98 lakhs families have been recognised by the government as living below poverty line! That means about 80 per cent of the population in the state are eligible for BPL cards, especially in a state that is deemed as one of the most progressive state in the country!
The onus of such corruption and mismanagement surely lies with the governments, both at the centre and the state. If subsidies can be extended directly to the BPL families and not routed through PDS shop owners – this could ebb the current problem to a large extent. BPL families can be provided with food coupons with which they can use to buy the essentials, whereas the shop owners can encash the coupons from the nearby banks. And further, the incentive to adulterate the commodities will be reduced on account of competition as the BPL card holders can then go to any shop as per their convenience. Today, BPL cards have become a tool to gain personal political mileage, with no care to check whether it actually goes to the right target audience!