one-nation-one-ration-card-scheme-and-associated-issues

Context: As the Supreme Court’s deadline for all states to join the One Nation, One Ration Card (ONORC) initiative nears, this is an opportune time to examine how the scheme has fared in its first two years. 

  • The Supreme Court directed all states and Union Territories to implement the One Nation, One Ration Card (ONORC) system, which allows for inter- and intra-state portability, by July 31.

About the ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ scheme

  • ONORC allows a beneficiary to access his food entitlements from anywhere in India irrespective of the place where the ration card is registered. 
  • This full mobility of food subsidy under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 relies on digitisation of the public distribution system (PDS), a network of over 5,00,000 fair-price shops (FPS). 
  • ONORC is based on technology that involves details of beneficiaries’ ration card, Aadhaar number, and electronic Points of Sale (ePoS). 
  • The system identifies a beneficiary through biometric authentication on ePoS devices at fair price shops. 
  • The system runs with the support of two portals —Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) and Annavitran, which host all the relevant data.
  • When a ration card holder goes to a fair price shop, he or she identifies himself or herself through biometric authentication 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-district and intra-district — the IM-PDS portal records the inter-state transactions.

About Public distribution system 

  • It is a government-sponsored chain of shops entrusted with the work of distributing basic food and non-food commodities to the needy sections of the society at very cheap prices.
  • It is established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution.
  • PDS is operated under the joint responsibility of the Central and the State Governments. 
 

What is a Ration Card?

  • 'Ration card' means a document issued under an order or authority of the State Government for the purchase of essential commodities under the Public Distribution System from the fair price shop.
  • It depends on the number of members in a family and the financial status of the applicant.
  • Apart from that, a ration card also acts as a proof of identity and address and can be used for purposes such as applying for a domicile certificate, voter ID, etc.

Status of ONORC Scheme

  • Thirty-two states and Union territories have already completed the formalities of the scheme, which include linking beneficiaries’ ration cards with their Aadhaar numbers and installing e-Point of Sale (e-POS) machines in each FPS. 
    • The Centre had even set the implementation of ONORC as a precondition for additional borrowing by states during the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

Benefit of ONORC Scheme

  • The ONORC can reduce leakages in PDS because it reassigns the responsibility to deliver migrant workers’ share of food grains from low capacity, labour-surplus states to those with greater migrant inflows and proven experience in implementing welfare schemes faithfully. 
  • Nutritional Security: With cheap food grain available to migrants, there are chances of more expenditure towards fruits and vegetables.
  • Full coverage will be possible after 100% Aadhaar seeding of ration cards has been achieved, and all fair price shops are covered by ePoS devices (there are currently 4.74 lakh devices installed across the country).
  • Better efficiency of Food Distribution Schemes: With ONORC those left out due to migration can take that food.

Challenges:

  • Digital exclusion, Aadhar vs. right to food: People with incorrect names, mismatching dates of birth, end up unable to avail any welfare scheme that they are otherwise eligible for.
  • People left out of PDS Coverage: India’s population was about 121 crore in 2011 and so PDS covered approximately 80 crore people. 
    • However, applying the 67% ratio to a projected population of 137 crore for 2020, PDS coverage today should be around 92 crore.
  • No update of PDS coverage: The Centre’s calculation of the actual number of people to be covered in each State has remained “frozen.” 
    • Delay in 2021 census: With the 2021 census process being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, any proposed revision of PDS coverage using that data could now take several years. 
  • The costs of food subsidy 
    • A Central food subsidy bill budgeted at Rs 1,84,220 crore for 2019-20 and the FCI’s rice and wheat stocks of 56.5 mt as on January 1 being way above the required 21.4 mt for this date, even after providing for the NFSA.

Way forward:

  • The central vigilance committee led by D. P. Wadhwa has made several useful suggestions including automation of the weighing system
    • Doorstep delivery of food grain to fair-price shops
    • Speeding up cases pending in courts under the Essential Commodities Act and setting up inspection squads. 
  • Checking digital exclusion: The government can make progress on leakage without excluding beneficiaries by introducing reconciliation but not holding dealers accountable for past diversion as was done in Jharkhand.
    • There is a need to directly and regularly measure beneficiaries outcomes and  to understand how they are impacted by well-intentioned reforms and to motivate beneficiary-centric design of those reforms. 
  • Broader nutritional security: Its successful implementation may pave the way for interstate portability of Integrated Child Development Services, Mid-Day Meals, immunisation, health care and other facilities for poor migrant households.
  • Other alternatives to PDS include cash transfers and food coupons. Beneficiaries would directly be given either cash or coupons for better compliance with World Trade Organisation Rules.

The ONORC is the most far-reaching reform of the public distribution ecosystem since the NFSA. All eyes will be on it as after 75 years of the ration card’s introduction, India is moving closer towards having “One Ration Card”.

NFSA, 2013

About 

  • National Food Security Act, 2013 came into being with the objective to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.
  • It converts entitlements of existing food security programmes of the Central Government including the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child development scheme and PDS into legal entitlements.

Coverage

  • The NFSA aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two thirds (67%) of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas; 81.31 cr beneficiaries).

Women Empowerment

  • The head of every eligible household shall be a woman(18 years of age or above) for the purpose of issuance under this act.

Entitlements

  • Grains like wheat, rice and coarse grain will be distributed at the subsidized price of Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Rs. 1 and uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month is provided.
  • Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) (poorest of the poor) households will be protected at 35 kg per household per month.

Nutritional support to Women and Children

  • Pregnant women and lactating mothers and children are entitled to get meals under the prescribed nutrition by MDM and ICDS.
  • Pregnant women and lactating mothers will be entitled to get maternity benefit of Rs.6000.
  • NFSA 2013 will provide high nutrition food to children from the age group of 6 months to 14 years.

Bodies under NFSA

  • Under NFSA, there is no provision for any Commission at the national level or District level. The Act provides for a State Food Commission (SFC) in every State/UT, for the purpose of monitoring and review of implementation of the Act.

A paradigm shift -Right based approach

  • The act also provides for the payment of food security allowance to entitled persons by State Government in case of non-supply of entitled quantities of foodgrains, within such time and manner as may be prescribed by the Central Government. Accordingly, the Government has notified the Food Security Allowance Rules, 2015.

Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/easing-access-to-entitlements-7406451/