Opinion

One nation, one ration card holds promise

| Updated on: Dec 22, 2021
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It assumes importance in view of the exodus of migrants in the wake of Covid and addresses their food insecurity

The Sustainable Development Goal-2 calls for ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition. Worldwide, countries are trying to achieve this target through various targeted schemes covering both direct benefit and cash transfers on the one hand, and various in-kind transfers on the other hand. In India, the Public Distribution System (PDS) lies at the core of meeting the SDG of zero hunger.

The severity of the Covid-19 pandemic and the exodus of migrants due to loss of income, food shortages and uncertainty about future led to one of the major reforms in the PDS, namely, One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC). The scheme allows for nation-wide portability of ration cards under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). The scheme currently covers around 75 crore beneficiaries (almost 94.3 per cent of the NFSA population) through 23 crore ration cards spanning across 34 States/Union Territories.

Through this scheme, all eligible ration card holders/beneficiaries covered under NFSA can access their entitlements from anywhere in the country. This scheme serves as a crucial example of the trickle down of growing digitisation and IT revolution in serving better the people in the lower income strata.

Further, due to the potential of ONORC to empower migrants, this plan has now also become a part of the “Prime Minister’s Technology Driven System Reforms under the AtmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyan”. ‘Mera Ration’ app, which was launched under ONORC, is available in multiple languages — English, Hindi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Urdu, Gujarati, Marathi and Bangla — to facilitate better access and portability.

Thrust on tech

The basic essence of the scheme lies in the involvement of technology through ration card, Aadhaar number, and electronic Points of Sale (ePoS) of the beneficiaries. When a ration card holder goes to a fair price shop, he/she identifies himself/herself through biometric authentication — thumb scanning of iris scan on ePoS — which is matched real-time with details on the Annavitaran portal. Once the ration card details are verified, the dealer hands out the beneficiary’s entitlements. While the Annavitaran portal maintains a record of intra-State transactions — inter- and intra-district — the IM-PDS portal records the inter-State transactions.

This scheme provides flexibility to the different beneficiaries of a single ration card to get ration from different States/cities and also intra-city. This scheme has many advantages, including reducing the leakages in the system and bringing out a more competitive set-up enabling the beneficiaries the freedom to choose their fair price shops according to their convenience.

Based on the official statistics available at Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) website, States like Haryana and Maharastra perform most of the inter-State sales to migrants; migrants from UP and Bihar constitute a major part of the migrant workforce that utilise the benefits of inter-State sales of ONORC. The inter-State beneficiaries and total transactions have also recorded an upsurge in recent months. The applicability of the scheme is limited in the North-East, which may be due to the limited digital linkages.

The basic pre-requisites for the scheme are authentication through biometric, which sometimes leads to server connectivity issues especially for migrants wherein, inter-State servers are involved. Official statistics reveal that while around 90 per cent of ration cards are Aadhaar linked, only 37 per cent of the cards are mobile linked. Given that ePoS availability and Aadhaar linkage are prerequisites for the ONORC scheme, this digital linkage needs to be further strengthened for ensuring an effective ONORC implementation. For seamless implementation of the scheme, regular supply of foodgrains to fair price shops has to be ensured. Staggered and irregular supply of ration can lead unnecessary delays and repeated visits of the beneficiaries. This causes loss of daily wage that could have been earned had the ration been supplied to them on time.

The ONORC scheme is not only timely, but is also necessary to overcome the ravages of the pandemic in a sustainable manner. However, better digital linkages and supply management can help the scheme attain the goal of inclusive growth. The scheme is still evolving and it will take some for it to reach its desired momentum. This scheme has given the beneficiaries the right of being heard and the freedom to choose their ration shops which are essential elements for attaining the basic Right to Food goal.

 

Pathak is working as Deputy Director, Ministry of Finance, and Shabnam is a research scholar at IIT Delhi. Views are personal

Published on December 23, 2021

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