Many ration card holders in Dhaka South City Corporation remained missing as the government operated 40 subsidised shops there on Tuesday.
Seven per cent of 6,720 ration card holders did not turn up at the shops operated in 20 wards despite knowing that they get only one chance in a month to buy 20 kilogram rice at Tk 10 per kilogram.
The absence does not fit reality amid the pandemic when many low-income people are being seen begging on the streets for food day and night.
Food department officials found the absence bizarre leaving a hint that some of the ration cards were distributed among people apparently not in need of food.
‘We suspect some of the ration cards fell in wrong hands,’ said Dhaka Rationing chief controller Utpal Kumar Saha.
He said that the rationing office would request respective lawmakers to verify whether the holders of ration cards in their areas were eligible for it.
‘We may cancel ration cards upon reports from lawmakers,’ he said.
On Tuesday, nearly 9.5 tonnes of 134.4 tonnes of subsidised rice allocated for ration card holders of nearly a third of DSCC wards returned unsold.
The hint of irregularities in the distribution of ration cards comes as a fresh embarrassment to the government which initially struggled to reach the poor with aid because of corruption by its food dealers.
The government switched to ration card system to feed a limited number of 12.5 lakh urban poor households after it failed to continue with open market sale of rice from subsidised shops where anybody could go and buy a certain amount of rice regularly.
The government cited widespread misappropriation of rice by its dealers when it suspended its OMS and spent almost a month in preparing the ration cards.
A ration card holder can buy 20 kg rice a month. In each ward of DSCC, 336 families were issued ration cards while 400 families in Dhaka North City Corporation.
On Monday, the absence of ration card holders was even larger when subsidised shops went to 20 wards in DNCC.
Area rationing officers in DNCC reported that they had to send people around with loudspeakers to remind that they were open but still many did not turn up.
In three wards in Mohammadpur, a DNCC area, over a fifth of the ration card holders remained missing when the subsidised shops closed long after their scheduled time.
The rationing officer, SM Didarul Islam, returned more than five of 24 tonnes of rice allocated for people in his area in Mohammadpur.
‘There cannot be so many missing. If someone gets sick he can get his allocation through anyone he chooses,’ said Didar.
The highest number of absence was reported at ward No 29 in Mohammadpur where over half the ration card holders were missing.
‘People are bored with rice and potato,’ said Nurul Islam Ratan, councillor of the ward.
‘People would come if the government had given them money,’ he said.
The ration cards were issued to families primarily selected by councillors or local government representatives. Lists of eligible candidates were verified by respective rationing offices.
Food officials earlier complained about local councillors and local government representatives being non-transparent and highly inefficient, often sending wrong lists that made their task of verification all the more difficult.
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