Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder has admitted that seven lakh fake OMS cards were distributed during the Covid-19 lockdown in the country last year.
The minister said this during a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on the food ministry on September 24, according to minutes of the meeting.
This newspaper has obtained a copy of the meeting minutes. The minutes were approved by the parliamentary body at its following meeting on Wednesday.
"A total of 50 lakh OMS [open market sale] cards were distributed during the coronavirus situation. Of them, seven lakh have been found to be fake," Sadhan told the meeting.
The minister said an initiative was taken to make smart OMS cards through the government's Information and Communication Technology department to curb various irregularities and corruption.
Talking to reporters on Wednesday, he said they have collected relevant information (about fake cards) recorded on Excel sheets from all areas of the country. "Steps have been taken to make smart cards so that irregularities which took place during the Covid-19 situation do not recur."
Sadhan said a smart OMS card would contain all information, including the cardholder's photo. As a result, it would not be possible for anyone to issue multiple cards using one person's name or information, he added.
Following the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country in March last year, the government enforced a nationwide lockdown from March 26 to May 31.
The government at that time had asked the people to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary. The low-income people and daily wage earners were the worst hit by the shutdown and many of them became unemployed.
Amid such a situation, the government increased the number of ration cards from five million to 10 million to provide rice to more people for Tk 10 a kg under a special OMS programme.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on March 25 last year announced that the price of OMS rice was fixed at Tk 10 a kg instead of Tk 30 a kg.
Accordingly, the food ministry started selling rice for Tk 10 a kg under the special OMS programme. Each OMS cardholder could buy five kg of rice a week. The rice was sold from 10:00am to 3:00pm every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
But the programme was suspended in April citing that there was a risk of spread of the virus as people were not following health guidelines while standing in queues.
Later, the food ministry asked the district deputy commissioners to prepare a list of underprivileged and low-income people who do not have cards of food friendly programme. Those newly enlisted people would be given rice for Tk 10 a kg under the special OMS programme.
During the sale of OMS rice, media outlets ran reports about embezzlement of huge quantity of rice in different parts of the country. A section of government officials and public representatives were involved in embezzling rice, the reports said.
Amid criticism from different quarters over the corruption, more than 100 public representatives of upazila, union and zilla parishads were suspended and several others were arrested in cases in this regard.
The parliamentary standing committee during its meeting on September 24 discussed various alleged irregularities in OMS dealership.
The food minister, however, in the meeting said his ministry has no jurisdiction over granting or canceling OMS dealership.
Sadhan said irregularities often take place when an individual retains OMS dealership for a long time.
A new OMS dealer can be appointed if the incumbent dealer is found involved in irregularities through an investigation, he added.
Despite repeated attempts, this newspaper could not reach the food minister over the phone yesterday for comments.