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Ration Card Portability

Published on 11-Sept-2019 – Ration Card Portability

What is ration card portability? ‘One Nation One Ration Card’

Approx Read Time: 4 minutes

In News:

  • The Central government is showcasing the roll-out of the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme as one of the biggest achievements of its first 100 days in power.
  • The launch of the nationwide food security net is scheduled for June 2020, but several challenges remain before migrants can take advantage of full portability.

What is the scheme about?

  • National Food Security Act (NFSA) provides “location-linked” benefits only, leaving crores of migrant workers and families out of the food safety net.
  • Each household’s ration card is linked to a specific fair price shop and can only be used to buy rations in that particular shop.
  • The Centre is now in the process of expanding these efforts into a nationwide portability network which is called the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme.
  • It is scheduled to come into full effect by June 2020, after which a ration card holder can buy subsidized grain at any fair price shop in the country.

Note: Over the last few years, 10 States (partially in one) have implemented the Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IMPDS), which allows beneficiaries to buy rations from any fair price shop within that State.

NFSA:

  • India runs the world’s largest food security programme, distributing more than 600 lakh tonnes of subsidized food grain to more than 81 crore beneficiaries every year.
  • This is done through a vast network of more than 5 lakh ration or fair price shops. Under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), each beneficiary is eligible for 5 kg of subsidized grains per month at the rate of ₹3/kg for rice, ₹2/kg for wheat and ₹1/kg of coarse cereals.

Non-beneficiaries before:

  • Migrant workers.
  • Women after marriage.
  • Short term migrants.
  • Intra-state migrants.

Note: Census 2011 – more than 45 crore internal migrants in India, of whom more than half have not completed primary education, while 80% have not completed secondary education correspondingly linked to their lower income, which make these migrants eligible for NFSA benefits. Field studies estimate that 4 to 10 crore people are short term migrants, often working in cities, but not moving there permanently.

What are the benefits? Who will gain the most?

  • The main beneficiaries of the scheme are the country’s migrant workers.
  • Registering for ration cards at new location will become easier (especially if some members of the household still remain in their original home).
  • Women after marriage can avail benefits of PDS shops through ration card portability.
  • Ration card portability will also curb corruption and improve access and service quality by removing monopolies.
  • Under the old system, beneficiaries were dependent on a single fair price shop and subject to the whims of its dealer.
  • Under the new system, if they are denied service or face corruption or poor quality in one shop, they are free to head to a different shop.
  • The scheme is also driving the faster implementation of initiatives to digitize and integrate the food storage and public distribution system (PDS).

What is needed to make it work?

  • Creation of a central repository of NFSA beneficiaries and ration cards, to integrate the existing databases maintained by States, Union Territories and the Centre.
  • Aadhaar seeding, to authenticate and track the usage of ration by beneficiaries anywhere in the country.
  • Currently, around 85% of ration cards are linked to Aadhaar numbers.
  • All fair price shops are to be equipped with electronic point-of-sale machines (e-PoS), replacing the old method of manual record-keeping of transactions with a digital real-time record.
  • Integrating all warehouses and godowns storing subsidized grain to create a seamless flow of online information from procurement until distribution by Depot Online System of FCI(Food Corporation of India).

What is the progress so far?

  • Two pairs of States , Andhra Pradesh-Telangana and Maharashtra-Gujarat, became the first to begin implementing portability between their states last month.
  • From October 1, two more pairs, Kerala-Karnataka and Rajasthan-Haryana will join the experiment.
  • By January, all eight states and at least three others which already implement intrastate portability will form the first national grid for the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme.

What are the difficulties ahead?

  • There are only 4.32 lakh ePoS machines which have been installed in more than 5.3 lakh fair price shops. Apart from much of Northeast India, much of that gap comes from three states: Bihar, West Bengal and Uttarakhand.
  • Major source, States for migrants, Bihar (only 15% coverage) and West Bengal (70% coverage) must speed up ePoS installation for the system to work smoothly.
  • ePoS connectivity also remains erratic, jeopardizing smooth functioning in rural and remote areas.
  • Complaints of denial of food due to system failures, For example, In Ranchi district, which was relatively well connected, it was found that 20% to 40% of beneficiaries had been unable to buy their rations.
  • Right to Food activists have blamed at least 20 deaths from September 2017 to June 2019 on hunger caused by irregularities in the PDS system.
  • In other states, the challenge comes from the difference between ration benefits offered by the state in comparison to the Central entitlement. Tamil Nadu, For example, offers 20 kg of free rice per month to almost 2 crore ration card holders, as well as subsidized sugar, pulses, and oil, over and above the NFSA benefits.
  • The State government has made it clear that it will not be offering these benefits to migrant workers, as the Centre will cover the costs of NFSA benefits only.
  • Another issue could arise if the members of a single household are split between two different locations.
  • The scheme’s guidelines only permit purchase of half the subsidized grain at one time in an effort to prevent one member of the household taking the entire ration for the month, leaving family members in a different location stranded without food.
  • Biggest challenge: lack of any concrete data on interstate migration trends, especially short term migration.
  • The allocation of food grains to states will have to be dynamic to allow for quick additional delivery to cover any shortfalls in states with large migrant populations. Currently, Food Corporation of India godowns stock grains up to three months in advance.

Also Read: Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS)

Related Articles: National Food Security Act, 2013

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