The Uttar Pradesh government has admitted that a scam worth crores, in which food grain meant for the poor, under the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) was being diverted to the open market by ration shop owners and officials. Aadhar numbers of genuine beneficiaries were being replaced with those of imposters said officials.
The government says Rs 30-crore worth subsidized food grain has been diverted to the open market in the last three months through 1.86 lakh fraud transactions. At least 950 ration shop owners across 43 districts are involved claims the government and 100 First Investigation Reports have been filed by the police so far.
According to the government this is what was happening: In ration shops across UP, Aadhar cards - essential to claim PDS ration - of those who were not picking up their monthly quota were being misused. Records were being fudged to first replace such genuine Aadhar cards in government computer systems with fake ones. Then the grain was shown as withdrawn by ration shop owners, in the name of these fake Aadhar card holders, and diverted to the open market. Finally the original Aadhar numbers were re-entered in the system to cover up the scam.
A few ration dealers and government computer operators have been arrested across districts and some of those named in FIR's have shut shop and fled. NDTV visited one such shop on the outskirts of Lucknow and went to the local food and civil supplies department office, where officials asked if the big fish will be touched. "You see at my local office level if I try to replace an already locked-in Aadhar card there is a problem. At my level and at my area office level it has not happened. It has happened at an upper level," Satya Narayan, a government official told NDTV.
The UP government admits it was caught unawares by the nature of the fraud but says it has acted on time and that no one will be spared. "We had not imagined a scam like this. People used fake Aadhar cards and even cards from other states were used. In urban areas we are matching fingerprints with Aadhar cards for at least 92 per cent cases. In this case, these people used the Aadhar cards of those who were not coming to collect their ration," said Atul Garg, the state Food and Civil Supplies Minister.
Ministers in the Yogi Adityanath government have downplayed the scam, saying Rs 25-30 crore out of a yearly budget of Rs 9,000 crore isn't a big amount. But the Opposition is not convinced.
"Since the time their government was formed, they have been talking of different models for PDS, sometimes they say Jharkhand model, sometimes Chattisgarh model but in over 16 months now, the only model that has come is a scam-based model," said Manoj Pandey of the Samajwadi Party.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has now ordered a detailed enquiry by the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh Police. The UP government says it has started a system of continuous data monitoring of PDS and will get to know if any Aadhar card is being replaced under the system.