Devbrat Patnaik

Bhubaneswar: As scandalous as it may sound, the State has over two lakh ghost beneficiaries under the Public Distribution System (PDS), according to an RTI query. What's more shocking is that not a single person has been identified as yet.

After the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, CM Naveen Patnaik under the Food Security scheme doled out three months advance PDS ration to the beneficiaries. This apart, it was announced that all the 94 lakh-odd PDS beneficiaries will get a cash incentive of Rs 1000 each, for which Rs 940 crore (total estimation is around Rs 955.16 cr) was spent, sources said.

Soon, the required funds were allocated to each of the districts. However, a refund of Rs 20.56 crore to the state exchequer has brought out in the open presence of more than two lakh ghost beneficiaries across districts.

While Balasore district alone refunded Rs 90 lakh, Nabarangpur district had more than Rs 56 lakh balance after distribution. Even Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation has returned Rs 96 lakh to the district office, revealed official reports.

District supply officer of Nabarangpur, Sanjeev Kumar Sahu said, "The BDOs have submitted UCs (utilisation certificates) of distribution of all blocks and returned the balance amount. Around Rs 56,36,500 has been returned because the BDOs submitted a report that the beneficiaries are not available."

Pradyumna Kumar Routray, District supply officer of Balasore, said, "After distribution of the cash to every beneficiary, the remaining amount was returned to the government through the BDOs."

The unutilised monetary assistance is anyways back to the exchequer but the major concern now that has raised many eyebrows is the existence of the ineligible PDS beneficiaries who are still availing rice, wheat, dal and other food grains.

Questions are also being raised whether the PDS dealers are lifting all the supplied stock in the name of these ghost ration card beneficiaries.

Social activist Pradeep Pradhan said, "Crores of rupees are being siphoned off in the name of fake beneficiaries of rice. The recent data revealed that the cash meant for 2 lakh beneficiaries have been returned to the government as they were not available. If we take this into account, about Rs 200 crore is being swindled in the NFSA rice distribution system."

On the other hand, the State Civil Supplies Corporation has said that no complaint has so far been received with regard to any beneficiary left out of Covid assistance.

Hrudananda Kar, CGM (Finance) of State Supply Corporation, said, "We have to examine it (RTI report on the presence of ghost beneficiaries). Because the authorities in the district-level distributed to all the beneficiaries they came across. We have not received any complaint regarding any beneficiary being left out."

Even as the presence of fake beneficiaries is out in the open, the ineligible persons availing PDS benefits are still to be traced.