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Bihar: Major ration scam unearthed
Ajay Kumar in Patna | May 10, 2006 17:00 IST
Another scam has come to light in Bihar -- a state hit by major scams in the recent past, including the infamous flood relief scam in which IAS officer Gautam Goswami was involved.
A major scam to the tune of over Rs 1,400 crore relating to the alleged misuse of subsidised rations and short supply of foodgrains meant for people below the poverty line during the erstwhile Rashtriya Janata Dal rule in Bihar has been unearthed.
Documents accessed by this correspondent show that over 21 lakh special ration cards were issued by authorities to poor people who were not entitled to benefit from the scheme.
The papers, gathered from the state food department, Economic Offences Wing of the Crime Investigation Department and the Vigilance Investigation Bureau, showed that the food department had on September 4, 2000, admitted in an official communication to the EOW that it had reviewed the below poverty level list between 1998 and 2000, and struck off 21,00,226 non-BPL beneficiaries from among 61 lakh "red card" holders.
The food department also admitted to the EOW that exactly the same number of beneficiaries were later included in the list.
By March 31, 2001, it was established by the food department that 21,00,226 red cards were distributed to non-BPL beneficiaries and that they had lifted subsidised rations using the cards.
The cost of these rations was put at Rs 300 crore. The short supply of foodgrains to the poor with red cards was projected at Rs 146 crore.
According to the EOW, the total cost of the lost opportunity to the poor in respect of the scheme alone came to about Rs 1,000 crore, according to the documents.
Several district officials, including some magistrates and supply officers, who were allegedly involved in implementing the scheme five years ago, have recently denied they made a survey and eliminated the non-beneficiaries from the BPL list.
The food department too has, in an official note sent in reply to enquires by the comptroller and auditor general of India, admitted it was unable to specify on what basis the 21 lakh names were excluded and then again included in the list.
Food department officials are now spending sleepless nights following enquiries about the issuing of 21 lakh "imaginary cards", said a top state official on condition of anonymity.
Auditors have asked the food department to clarify the veracity of red cards that were exluded and then subsequently added back to the BPL list.
Sources said a former food secretary, who was transferred as managing director of the Bihar state cooperative bank a fortnight ago, had recommended action against 40 officers, including some district magistrates, but the files are gathering dust.
They also alleged that while senior officials in the food department had not been touched, "smaller fry" were facing the music as the Bihar Vigilance Bureau had failed to act against those who were major players in the scam.
The documents suggest large-scale manipulation and ommission in the Department of Food and Civil Supplies with respect to the issue of the red cards.
"The real culprits of this huge miscarriage of subsidised rations and short supply of foodgrains can only be established through an investigation, but this seems prima facie to be a case of an abject disorder in the system," said a senior official.
According to the documents, the state government had directed vigilance authorities to probe the largescale pilferage of subsidised foodgrains meant for holders of red cards.
The vigilance department has been deliberating the matter since 1999 and expressed reservations about investigating a matter that involved the verification of such a large number of red cards.
The food cell of the EOW, which is statutorily obliged to look into such matters, has registered 36 cases after extensive investigations.
The EOW has since 1998 been reporting largescale misuse of the red card scheme and had offered to conduct a survey in view of the vast number of cards involved to apprise the government of the exact percentage of bogus and fictitious cards, the documents stated.
The food department and later the director general of police had turned down the proposal, but the EOW made an informed estimate of the misuse of the cards and apprised the then chief secretary of the gravity of the matter.
When the then inspector general of EOW Manoje Nath, currently the additional director general of Bihar Military Police, cried foul over the issue, the government looked the other way, the sources said.