The order also pointed out that on April 6, the minister had written to his secretary asking for a self-contained report on how the chief secretary could issue such a direction. However, the report was never filed.

Written by Prashant Pandey | Ranchi |

Koyli Devi, whose family had been removed from the state PDS list. Her daughter Santoshi died last month. (File)

Four days after questioning the directions given by the Jharkhand chief secretary on mandatorily linking Aadhaar to ration cards by April 5, state PDS Minister Saryu Roy Saturday passed an order cancelling the instructions issued by the government’s top official. Citing a Government of India circular of February 8, Roy said beneficiaries could produce any approved identity document to avail of ration under the PDS. The order, which has been accessed by The Sunday Express, said: “It is clear that the direction issued by the Chief Secretary on March 27 through video-conferencing and given in writing to the department Secretary on March 29 is in contravention of the directions already issued by the Government of India and, therefore, it is liable to be annulled.”

Efforts to reach Chief Secretary Rajbala Verma by phone for a comment did not succeed. Text messages were not replied to. The order said that in a circular issued on February 8, the Union Ministry of Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution had said that the drive to get ration cards linked with Aadhaar would be intensified. However, nobody would be denied rations for want of the same, and they could avail of their quota by producing any of the approved identity documents, such as Aadhaar enrolment number, Aadhaar application slip, voter ID, driving licence, authenticated letter by tehsildar or a gazetted officer, passport, PAN, Kisan Photo Passbook or any other document approved by the state or central government.

The order said: “The direction of the Government of India is absolutely clear… It shows the sensitivity of the Government to ensure that the beneficiaries keep getting rations under any circumstance. However, at the state level, it reflects an acute of lack of sensitivity among the responsible officers, which is sad.”

The order also pointed out that on April 6, the minister had written to his secretary asking for a self-contained report on how the chief secretary could issue such a direction. However, the report was never filed.

Roy told The Sunday Express over the phone: “I had raised the issue and waited for some kind of clarification for four days. Nothing has been put up before me. Therefore, I have passed the written order. The directive of the Government of India and several other rulings of the Supreme Court make it amply clear that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for lifting of rations.”

He also said that he has asked officials to review all 11.5 lakh ration cards that were cancelled after the exercise of linking them with Aadhaar was launched in October last year. “The figure has been mentioned in the 1,000-day booklet of the government. But I was waiting for a break-up of this number before approving the file. This has not been done yet. Now, I have asked officials to review the whole thing and find out how many cards have got cancelled due to non-availability of Aadhaar,” Roy said.

The state government claims that they had deleted 11.5 lakh “fake” or “ineligible” ration cards, while adding more than nine lakh new ones under the new system.

The minister also expressed his reservations over top officials giving directions to lower-level officials, leading to confusion. “I have been visiting one village every week to review the working of the ration shops. I have realised that junior officials spend a lot of time listening to instructions from the top, and don’t get ample time to execute the task at hand,” he said.

Now, the Jharkhand government has launched a toll-free number — 1800 212 55 12 — where people can leave complaints about problems in the food distribution system, apart from clarifying that the unique identity number is not needed to receive food from the government.

“Aadhaar card is not mandatory. Any card, including a driver’s licence and voter ID card or any specified card, is permissible for procuring food grains,” Jharkhand Food Minister Saryu Roy said. “Grain banks” will be set up in every block, the minister said.

Secretary, PDS Vinay Chaubey could not be reached for a comment. According to a state government press release issued on March 27, the chief secretary’s directive followed a review meeting with PDS officials. “In the course of review, the CS has said that by April 5 all such ration cards, which don’t have Aadhaar, will become ineligible and only Aadhaar-based system would be used for lifting ration,” the release said.

The family of 11-year-old Santoshi, who died in Simdega district last month, allegedly due to non-availability of ration, had been removed from the state’s PDS because their Aadhaar cards were not linked to the new list issued by the government.