Mrunal Manmay Dash

At a time when the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has begun targeting the Central government over the discontinuance of 5kg free rice, the revelation that there are over 2 lakh ghost ration card beneficiaries in the State has put the BJD-led Stage government in a tight spot.

The number of ghost beneficiaries came to the fore during a question hour in Rajya Sabha. As per the data furnished in the Upper House of the Parliament, till January 1, 2023, Odisha had 2,00,636 ghost ration card holders.

Not only this, the Opposition has alleged that 3,40,000 tonnes of free rice given by the Centre during Covid times are left unused by the State.

Even eight years after the NFSA, the sheer number of fake ration card holders has bewildered many, especially when the ruling party in the State is launching protests over the discontinuance of 5kg free rice distribution by the Centre.

"There is a duplicate government running the State. And similarly, the beneficiaries are also duplicates. Crores of Rupees have been looted by the Odisha government through these ghost beneficiaries,” alleged BJP leader, Pradip Purohit.

Responding to the allegations, BJD MLA, Swaroop Das said, “The accusations are baseless. If there are any ghost beneficiaries at all, then the BJP has its agents in the Panchayats. They should bring that to the notice of the Sarpanch. We will definitely help them with it.”

Delays in linking Aadhaar with ration cards, non-removal of names of dead beneficiaries, and non-updation of the ration card management system are said to be some major causes behind such lapses.

“There should be an enquiry in this connection. We could not upgrade our ration card management system even after years of its launch. And the revelation of 2 lakh ghost beneficiaries has definitely put the State government in a soup,” said, food security activist, Rajkishore Mishra.

Meanwhile, the BJD staged a dharna at Panchayat offices across the State on February 15. On February 16, the conch party will stage demonstrations at block offices and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister through the district Collectors over the discontinuance of 5kg free rice.

In its response, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) termed BJD's decision a subterfuge to distract people’s attention from the deteriorating law and order situation in the State.

(Reported By Rashmiranjan Das & Harihar Chand, OTV)