What Is One Nation, One Ration Card? What Challenges Does It Face?
What is ‘One Nation One Ration Card?’ How was it conceptualised? Why do we need it?
The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, 29 June, directed states and Union Territories to implement the 'one nation, one ration card' scheme by 31 July.
Dubbing the 'lackadaisical attitude' of the Ministry of Labour and Employment as 'unpardonable', the top court also directed the Centre to develop a portal with the help of National Informatics Centre (NIC) by 31 July for the registration of unorganised sector workers, so that they may be able to accrue some benefits.
But what is ‘One Nation One Ration Card?’ How was it conceptualised? Why do we need it?
WHAT IS ONE NATION ONE RATION CARD?
The One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) system, is believed to be a 'citizen-centric reform'.
It aims to ensure availability of ration to beneficiaries, especially the migrant workers and their families, under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and other welfare schemes at any fair price shop (FPS) across the country.
The ration thus made available is at a subsidised rate.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Take for example, A is a ration-card holder, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, but is presently employed in a factory in Rajasthan.
Owing to this scheme, A can accrue Public Distribution System (PDS) benefits in a fair-price shop in Rajasthan or, in fact, in any other part of the country where ONORC may have been implemented.
At the same time A’s family members, who may still be living in Rajasthan, can continue to buy foodgrains from an FPS back home.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
ONORC relies on the following for its functioning:
Electronic Points of Sale (ePoS)
Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) (impds.nic.in) and Annavitran (annavitran.nic.in) are the two portals that support ONORC, by carrying all the pertinent data. While the former keeps track of the inter-state transactions, the latter maintains record of the intra-state ones.
Thus, when A, a ration card holder, visits an FPS, they load their biometric details on ePoS, which is matched with their details on the Annavitran portal, thereby identifying A as a legitimate beneficiary.
Once the authentication has been completed, the dealer can give A what they require and are entitled too.
THE GENESIS OF ONORC
According to an article published in Livemint, the scheme has its origins in 2011, when a task force was founded by then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Chaired by Nandan Nilekani, the job of the task force was to figure out how to initiate direct cash transfers of subsidies. Eventually, the task assigned to the force was expanded to including the formulation of an IT system for the PDS and the findings were submitted in October 2011.
Since, then, ONORC has been in the works for over a decade.
The ONORC was envisioned to amplify access to PDS benefits for the NFSA beneficiaries, by allowing them to avail the benefits even outside the jurisdiction of the FPS they were originally assigned.
As per The Indian Express, even though the ONORC was officially launched in August 2019, work on ration card portability had begun in April 2018 itself. That was when the IM-PDS was launched.
WHAT DID THE PANDEMIC SHOW?
The COVID-19 pandemic, while creating a public-healthcare crisis, wreaked havoc among the working classes with unemployment and acute poverty. As sudden lockdowns were initiated, many found themselves without jobs, shelter, or even food.
Thus, a large number of migrant workers started leaving for their hometowns, where they still, perhaps, had access to PDS benefits. With inadequate transport facilities available amid the lockdowns and increasing poverty, many set out on long, arduous journeys on foot, and some even died en route.
There was a dire need to get access to benefits and subsidies.
Initially, ONORC was planned as an inter-state scheme, but the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the excruciating need for its nationwide implementation. Consequently, in March 2021, the government announced its national roll-out as a part of the economic relief reforms.
HOW MANY STATES HAVE IMPLEMENTED ONORC?
As of today, 32 states and Union Territories have implemented the ONORC, according to The Indian Express. The following four states are yet to join:
In Bengal, the scheme has not been implemented yet "due to problems with Aadhaar seeding technology", the counsel for the state had informed the Supreme Court in June, according to India Today. According to The Indian Express, the state government has also demanded that ration cards that they have issued should also come under the scheme.
According to the report, the issue with Delhi is that it is yet to start the use of ePoS in fair price shops. Meanwhile, in Assam, the delay is reportedly owing to the Unique Identification Authority of India struggling to link Aadhaar cards with ration cards, while Chhattisgarh is reportedly still gathering enough POS machines, reports Deccan Herald.
As pointed out by The Indian Express, the number of inter-state transactions so far is much less than intra-district and inter-district ones.
SOME PERTINENT STATISTICS
As per the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution:
An average of 1.35 crore portability transactions are being recorded every month under the ONORC.
More than 27.83 crore portability transactions (including intra-state transactions) have taken place since August 2019.
Out of this, almost 19.8 crore portability transactions have been recorded during the pandemic between April 2020 and May 2021 alone.
Under the National Food Security Act 2013, approximately 81 crore people are entitled to buy subsidised foodgrains.
CHALLENGES BEFORE THE ONORC
An ambitious project, ONORC is plagued by a multitude of challenges. These include:
100% of ration cards are yet to be linked to Aadhaar
There is a lack of clarity on operating procedures and beneficiary entitlements with regard to prices and food habits in different states
There are presently 5.46 lakh FPS across the country, but only 4.75 lakh ePoS devices have been installed. Each FPS must mandatorily have an ePoS device
Critics have flagged a need for increase in inclusivity in the PDS. More people require subsidies than are presently enlisted in the available system
An IndiaSpend report from January 2020, points out that “the PDS suffers from flaws in storage and distribution”. An analysis by PRS Legislative research indicates a leakage of 40.4% of all foodgrains under the PDS network.
(With inputs from PTI, Deccan Herald, The Indian Express, LiveMint and IndiaSpend.)
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