Banda. ‘I’ve spent almost 300 rupees in filling up and submitting the form for a new ration card. Not to mention the fact that I’ve lost 3 days of wages in the process,’ says a visibly harassed Sunita. Sunita is a daily wage labourer and comes from a family that falls below the poverty line. Not knowing how to fill up the 2 pages of the form for a new ration card, she had to ask for help. Little did she know how much the help would end up costing her.
As forms for new ration cards continue to be filled out in rural India, more and more parties are finding this an opportunity to do good business and make money at the cost of the rural poor. With little help from the government machinery, people are being forced to get assistance from wherever they can and at whatever cost. One such source is the nearest cyber cafe. With there being a limited number of these in smaller districts, the cafe owners are busy printing out forms and photocopying documents and pricing them as they please.
‘There are 3 documents that we need photocopies of – the old ration card, the bank passbook, and an identity proof. Shops are charging upto 20 rupees for this when normally this should cost less than 10 rupees,’ says Kamta from Dighwat village. ‘What choice do we have? Not agreeing to pay up would mean no ration card!’ ‘If we choose to register online, then they charge 100 rupees in the cyber cafes as charges for their services,’ complained Raja from Padarathpur. He further added, ‘They charge heavily for the print out of the form. Most people are unable to fill it themselves. If we take the form to the village head or the local ration dealer (or kotedaar), another 30 rupees are charged by the person who fills the form. After that, there is the problem of buying a new SIM card. How are we expected to even afford this process?’
Much like Raja and Kamta, many others are trying to get new ration cards but are meeting expensive hurdles at every step. Everything seems to have become priced at twice the original cost. The form requires a mobile number registered in the name of the beneficiary. This is turning out to be a money making scheme for more than just one party. People filling up forms are being convinced to purchase new SIM cards, preferably from 2 specific companies. The SIM card, again, costs around 100 rupees when normally the cost of a new SIM card is around half the price.
When asked about this, an officer at the District Supply Department Gaurav Prakash Chaudhary said that these provisions have been laid out by the Central and State governments. ‘How the government chooses to formulate these rules is not something under our control.’ When asked about the people being taken for a ride he said, ‘People are free to buy SIM cards from wherever they want. I don’t see the point in ordering a probe into the matter.’
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P.S.: The forms are to be made available for a token amount of 20 rupees at the Jan Sewa Kendras. But with these centres located near the town area, poor people from villages (those who earn less than 30 rupees a day) are spending close to 300 rupees on just the process of filling up and submitting the form. In other villages, where the village head or the ration dealer has taken up the responsibility to fill up forms, anything from 10 rupees to 50 rupees is being charged. The whole exercise seems to have become a necessary expense for many rural households.