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Chandigarh, (Gurpreet): Even as he launched the Smart Ration Card scheme to cover 1.41 crore beneficiaries across the state, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday announced a separate State-funded scheme to provide subsidized rations to the 9 lakh beneficiaries not covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

          With this, the total number of beneficiaries in the state will go up to 1.50 crore, the Chief Minister announced, while rolling out the Smart Card Scheme under which 37.5 lakh cards will be distributed to the eligible beneficiaries this month.

          Captain Amarinder said the Centre had capped the maximum number of beneficiaries to 1.41 crore and, despite repeated requests, had not agreed to provide subsidized rations to the deserving 9 lakh people not covered under NFSA. His government had therefore decided to cover all such left out eligible persons under a State-funded scheme, details of which will be announced shortly, he said. 

          Launching the Smart Ration Card scheme virtually, with connection to 100 places across the state, the Chief Minister said the scheme would help curb corruption and give freedom to the beneficiaries to buy from any depot. Describing it as a major step towards empowering the beneficiary, he said it will end the exploitation of beneficiaries by unscrupulous ration depot holders. The Smart Ration Card empowers the beneficiary to get his entitled quota of foodgrains from any Ration Depot in the State of Punjab.

          The Chief Minister lashed out at the BJP-led central government for attempting to destroy the spirit of Punjab’s farmers, who have toiled for the country and fed the nation, through the farm ordinances. These ordinances are aimed at ending the MSP regime and will hit the farmers hard, he said.          

          In a symbolic gesture, the Chief Minister handed over the smart ration cards to four beneficiaries here at the Secretariat, after which all ministers and MLAs distributed cards in their respective districts and constituencies.

          Earlier, Punjab Minister of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Bharat Bhushan Ashu pointed out that the state government, in line with its promise to make the system transparent, had already introduced e-POS system to check pilferage. The Captain Amarinder government had also weeded out ghost beneficiaries and undeserving people who were being provided subsidies by the erstwhile SAD- BJP regime at the cost of genuine beneficiaries, he added.

          The Smart cards, said Ashu, will enable the beneficiaries to take ration from any shop, thus ending the monopoly of the ration depots. Bio-metrics of the card holder will be matched with the data stored in a chip on the smart ration card to prevent any fraudulent transfer of food grains. One card will suffice for the entire family, he disclosed. Ashu hailed the Chief Minister’s rejection of the anti-farmer ordinances of the central government, which he said had made him `kisaanon da rakha’ also, in addition to being `paaniyan da rakha.’

          Finance Minister Manpreet Badal termed the launch of the cards as the fulfilment of another promise and responsibility of the state government despite the financial crunch and the external as well as Internal problems faced by Punjab. From the SYL to the farm ordinances and the GST problems, the state had been suffering a host of problems, but development works under the Captain Amarinder continued uninterrupted, he added.

          Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar said the journey to implement a transparent system of public food distribution had been an arduous one, as the previous government had put in place a corrupt and monopolistic system. Due to the step-motherly treatment of the Centre towards Punjab, the Rs 31000 crore CCL debt burden imposed by the SAD-BJP on the state was yet to be resolved, he said, calling for protection of farmers at all costs. “We have to ensure that all deserving people get the benefit of the scheme, irrespective of their political affiliations,” he added.

          Punjab Youth Congress (PYC) president Birender Dhillion demanded an inquiry into the previous government, which misused welfare schemes to benefit undeserving beneficiaries.

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