The Indian ration card is mainly used for purchasing subsidized food items such as rice, wheat, and fuel (kerosene, LPG or Liquified Petroleum Gas).
It is an important subsistence tool for the have-nots and underprivileged people, providing not only identity proof but also a connection with government databases.
India's Public Distribution System (PDS) operates based on the ration card, including its functions of eligibility, identity and entitlement.
It is either an A-4 size folded paper card or a chip-embedded smart card. It bears photograph of head of the family (HoF). It is issued one per family by the state government.
It operates on three different categories –extreme poverty level (Antyodaya), below poverty level (BPL) and above poverty level (APL).
Accordingly, there are three separate colours of rations cards—Yellow, Saffron and White. The Planning Commission of India defines these poverty lines every few years based on collection and analysis of data from various sources.
Three Types of Ration Card in India
How to obtain ration card? It is not mandatory to obtain ration cards in India. It is needed only if somebody wants to obtain subsidized food items. Eligibility criteria for the Antyodaya, BPL and APL ration cards are based on the economic status of the family.
The processing of ration card after the candidate’s application usually takes a month’s time. After the issue of the card, the applicant and all members of the family need to visit the ration registration office in order to produce original documents for verification and biometric data collection (photographs and fingerprints of all members).
On completion of the verification process, the district supply office issues the eligible ration card within the span of one month. The applicant can check the application status online.
A BPL card entitles the holder’s family to more benefits than an APL card offers; for example, more rations and more kerosene at the subsidized rate. The process of acquiring both BPL and APL cards are the same.
Loopholes of the PDS System
No points for guessing that to control, supervise and effectively execute such a vast system covering billions of Indian population is no easy task. Therefore, on the flip side, the government has a tough time dealing with counterfeit, invalid and ineligible ration cards. However, there are also countless underprivileged, downtrodden destitutes who truly need but do not possess any ration card.
PDS shop owners in connivance with some dishonest government officials divert the subsidized food items and petroleum to black market. The number of fraudulent ration cards of fake people who are dead, fictitious, or some real person but nor eligible, and replicas of other cards, are constantly on the rise. The ration quota of fraud people and unused quota by real beneficiary is shown as fully exhausted. Moreover, material is diverted to black market in large portions, causing huge subsidy loss of public money.
The Indian Government is making earnest endeavours and taking drastic measures to prevent leakage, corruption and diversion of PDS ration.
Recently, some state governments like Karnataka accept online applications of ration card only, under the e-governance initiative.
With the advent of science and technology and the invention of the internet, the traditional system of paper applications has almost become a relic of the past.
Through e-ration service people can apply and acquire ration cards and also check the availability of food grains along with their cost online.
This is a path-breaking initiative of the government that will help it to deter the dishonest practice of holding back rations and to ensure that the cards reach the needy.
Seldom Used as address and ID proof
Ration card is not accepted or relied upon across India as an authentic proof of one’s identity or residence because there is no proper way to authenticate it instantly online at the point of service unlike digital Aadhaar.
Therefore, various agencies like passport office and banks consider it only as secondary proof, not the primary.