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The Great Deception

The Great Deception

Author: D Bandyopadhyay
Publication: The Statesman
Date: March 10, 2006

Sunanda Sanyal's "Fake ration cards" (28 February-1 March) is an eye-opener on the fraud perpetrated on genuine electors in West Bengal. No one can be sure of the number of false ration cards and of fictitious voters emerging from these. It is an absurd case of falsehood with one area reinforcing mendacity in another. It is like an algebraic formula of untruth plus untruth making up the truth.

There is a lot of controversy about infiltrators from across the border increasing the number of voters in border districts whose demographic pattern has been substantially distorted. It is ominous because of pernicious precedents. Any day in future, particularly after the census of 2011, there can be a demand for "homeland" for a community which would be in a significant majority in these districts. A pliable government in search of a stable vote-bank can go to any extent of irrational appeasement. The Left Front government played foul on the tribal population of India by agreeing to an untenable demand to extend the Sixth Schedule to a totally non-tribal district of Darjeeling, thereby stealthily initiating the process of a third partition of the state.

Unpleasant ghettoes

The Urdu-speaking upcountry population of the then East Pakistan fought against the Mukti Bahini in the war of liberation. After the war they were interned in large camps at Mirpur, Syedpur, Chittagong, Khulna and other places. Their estimated number at that time was nearly one million. The local Bengali population used to call them Biharis, though they had migrated from various Hindi-Urdu speaking states of India. They owed allegiance to Pakistan and they wanted to be repatriated to that country. Pakistan flatly refused to take them back. They continued to live in unpleasant and uncomfortable ghettoes in Bangladesh.

The latest estimate about their present number in Bangladesh is an astonishingly low figure of 2.5 lakhs. By the normal modest growth rate of 2.3 per cent per year their number should have been around 18 lakhs by now. Where have these 15.5 lakh Biharis gone? These missing 1.5 million Biharis could not have gone anywhere excepting to India. Being Urdu speaking, it would have been difficult for them to cross over to India through the eastern borders of Bangladesh to Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya.

The most feasible and likely routes could be to cross the "Chicken's neck" of Islampore subdivision where the local population speak a type of Hindi dialect and then go over to the Purnea district of Bihar. Or, come over to the Urdu-speaking areas of the old estates of the deposed Prince Wajed Ali Shah of Oudh in the Metiaburz, Watgung Kidderpore and port areas. And this they did. Otherwise, a population of 1.5 million could not have vanished into thin air. They could effortlessly mingle with the local Urdu-speaking population of these areas.

The vote hungry politicians of the area merrily allowed them to obtain ration cards and on the basis of these documents enrolled them in voters' lists. Not that they are all here today. Most of them have gone over to others states in search of employment and better living. They left behind their ration cards and their names in the voters' list to enable the ration dealers to make illicit gains and to allow the apparatchiki to manipulate the election processes.

Poverty line

A sensitive issue is the estimate of fictitious ration cards and false and non-existent voters. For argument's sake let us say that roughly two crore in the statutory rationing areas should have ration cards. In reality, many of them do not have cards and a large number of false cards also exist. Similarly, 31 per cent of rural population below the poverty line for whom there is a targeted rationing system should have ration cards. Their number would be more or less two crore. Thus four crore ration cards in West Bengal would be legitimate, though that would not mean that they would be all genuine.

Out of the remaining four crore population in the rural and urbanised areas of the state legitimately 50 per cent, particularly in the lower end of income scale, should have ration cards. With the documents now available for identification, including voters' lists, bank credit/debit cards, property tax receipts, land line telephone/ electricity bills and permanent account number of income tax department, the compulsive need to have a ration card for the purpose of identity no longer exists.

Moreover, with hardly any difference between the above poverty level prices of rationed commodities and open market prices, there is no economic need for many in the upper income brackets to have ration cards. Thus one could easily infer that not more than two crore (50 per cent) of the remaining four crore population would have the desire or compulsion to possess ration cards. Therefore, the total number of legitimate ration cards in the state should not exceed six crore.

We have been told by the authorities in the central government that the total number of ration card exceeds the total population by 85 lakhs. This is wrong. The figure of ration cards would to 8.85 crore. Taking into account the legitimate figure of six crore ration cards, the estimated number of false ration cards could be anything between two crore and 2.85 crore.

Ration cards formed the basis of voters' identity. But not all fictitious ration cards can be used to prepare fake voters' lists. About 35 per cent of the population in West Bengal are below 18 years. So out of two crore false cards we have to immediately deduct 70 lakh who are not age-wise eligible for voting. Instead of taking 1.3 crores as the number of false voters let us accept the round figure of one crore as the minimum number of false voters.

Out of a total voter population of 4.7 crore, one crore fictitious voters would give the ruling party an initial advantage of 21 per cent over their electoral opponents. Perhaps, that is the strength on the basis of which a party could declare arrogantly that it would secure 223 seats out of a total of 294 assembly seats in the ensuing election. One redeeming feature is that these fake voters are not evenly distributed all over 294 constituencies. That's why one notices the aberration of an MP winning by more than six lakh votes and an MLA in one segment of that constituency winning by a margin of over two lakh votes.

Price difference

Since the price difference between APL rationed commodities and those in the open market is very little, I am ignoring the APL data. According to one estimate, there should about two crore below the poverty line in West Bengal. The Centre estimates the "exclusion error' of 32 per cent in the BPL list. That means either 32 per cent of BPL cards were false or given to ineligible persons. Thus false/ ineligible BPL card would be 64 lakhs. A BPL card holder is entitled to three kg of rice and three kg of wheat on an average per month.

The BPL price per kg of rice is Rs 6.15 and that of wheat is Rs 4.65 per kg. The prevailing market price of similar quantity of rice and wheat in the open market would on an average be Rs 11 and Rs 9, respectively. Thus one kg of BPL rice sold in the open market would generate illicit gain of Rs 4.85 and that in respect of wheat would be Rs 4.35.

One BPL unit is on an average entitled to three kg of rice and three kg of wheat per month. Thus a false BPL unit would create black money of Rs 27.6 in a month; for a figure of 64 lakh it would mean black money of 17.66 crore a month or Rs 211.96 crore a year. The author would be grateful if any informed reader can prove him fully or partially wrong.

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