The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Food card shot down

New Delhi, April 16: A government proposal to introduce food credit cards to check diversion of food grain and use of bogus ration cards has been rejected by the parliamentary standing committee on food and civil supplies as “utopian”.

According to the committee, the scheme, likely to cost at least Rs 3,000 crore, should not be the priority when lakhs in the Antyodaya Anna Yojana and below poverty line categories do not even have ration cards.

The panel in its report to Parliament last week said: “The first and foremost responsibility of the government is to issue ration cards to those who deserve but do not possess them.”

The panel, chaired by former Union food and public distribution minister Devendra Prasad Yadav, said it was sceptical of “the potentiality of food credit card in checking the menace of diversion and even the FCC may be issued in the name of those who do not deserve it”.

The committee recommended that the government should not change the existing system and should provide BPL/AAY cards to all eligible people who have not been issued ration cards as yet.

The government had earlier given permission to launch a pilot project for implementation of “Smart Cards” in the public distribution system in three districts of Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala. Under the scheme, the smart cards are to be issued to each Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) beneficiary.

The cards will contain a comprehensive database with personal particulars of all members of a family. This includes name, age, sex, date of birth, address, annual income and categorisation, that is whether a person falls in the above poverty line, below poverty line or Antyodaya category. In the present system, all entries are made manually.

The report also expressed concern over huge transit losses in the case of wheat. It noted that while during 2000-2001, wheat worth Rs 36 crore was lost, during 2001-2002, the loss went up to Rs 68 crore. Similarly, storage losses in the case of rice increased from Rs 165 crore in 2000-2001 to Rs 175 crore in 2001-2002. This was in addition to losses on account of theft and pilferage to the tune of Rs 40.73 lakh and Rs 30.23 lakh, respectively.

To minimise storage losses, the report suggested that godowns of the FCI should replace traditional dunnage to weed out micro-organisms.

The panel also suggested that FCI make all efforts to minimise its establishment cost, which has increased from Rs 1,062 crore in 1998-99 to Rs 1,441 crore in 2001-2002. It is likely to increase further.

The net expenditure incurred by FCI, including establishment cost, is reimbursed by the Centre in the form of food subsidy. The committee feels that since food subsidy is meant for the poorest sections of society, establishment cost of FCI should not be reimbursed out of this.

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