Move to expand ‘one nation one ration card’ will empower migrants, women

| Updated on March 04, 2020

The initiative should be accompanied by divisibility in entitlements between two units of a geographically-dispersed household.

At the recently held BusinessLine Agri Summit, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan said that 20 States will move to ‘one nation one ration card’ (ONORC) from June 1. The move will yield two clear benefits. First, it will confer greater choice to the consumer, who will not be compelled to buy her requirements from a particular single fair price shop (FPS) in her neighbourhood. Second, it will be a boon to migrants, who are saved the hassle of establishing their credentials all over again. The Economic Survey 2016-17 observes: “The first-ever estimates of internal work-related migration using railways data for the period 2011-2016 indicate an annual average flow of close to 9 million people between the States.” It also points out that the “acceleration of migration was particularly pronounced for females”. The ONORC should be accompanied by divisibility in entitlements between two units of a geographically-dispersed household. For that, ‘interoperability’ of the database should become the norm. With the States already being able to monitor the stock limits of dealers in real time, owing to e-PoS transactions being conducted through smart cards or Aadhaar seeding, this is not a big ask, although some States lag severely in digitisation. However, it is important to get more granular data on migration to enhance the success of this initiative. Distress migration — a situation where entire families move — is not the norm. Seasonal migration of the poor from rural areas in the northern and eastern States to cities is more commonplace. Stocking requirements would need to be estimated accordingly. A complaint facility should be instituted for consumers who do not get their due.

The importance of ensuring nutritional security to all in a country which has been ranked 102 out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index can hardly be overstated. A network of 5.3 lakh FPSs has been assigned the task of distributing subsidised wheat, rice and coarse grain to 67 per cent of the population. The digitisation of this exercise, through Aadhaar-linked ration cards and smart cards, has been pushed in an effort to reduce leakages, in the form of fake beneficiaries and diversion of supplies. A February 2020 NBER working paper by Karthik Muralidharan et al flags the rise of exclusion errors, post-Aadhaar seeding, even as the system has led to a “genuine reduction in leakages”. Ten per cent of legitimate beneficiaries were denied access to ration, because the Aadhaar was not linked to their card or on account of other issues — presumably such as biometrics not matching. Exclusion errors are morally unjustifiable.

In view of these glitches in the context of implementing ONORC, States should continue with community kitchen schemes as in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Finally, there can be no substitute to creating an empowered society to ensure that welfare programmes work.

Published on March 03, 2020

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