Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently announced nation-wide roll out of ‘one nation, one ration card’ scheme by March 2021. The nationwide lockdown had resulted in large scale disruption of economic or manufacturing activities which depends substantially on labour.
The government has announced several relief measures under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY) which also includes providing free foodgrains to 80 crore beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.
One of the PMGKAY measures is the grant of additional 5 kg foodgrain per person per month ‘free’ for three months (April-June), above the monthly entitlement of 5 kg of highly subsidised foodgrains per beneficiary under NFSA. This would ensure that a large section of the vulnerable have access to foodgrains during this critical juncture.
Sitharaman also announced that the government will give 5 kg per person of wheat or rice and 1 kg per family of channa for those not covered under NFSA for two months.
However, during the lockdown, the migrant labour who left their home states or districts in search of livelihood to economically advanced states or districts were unable to get access to supplies under NFSA because of the lack of portability of ration cards. Food and public distribution ministry officials acknowledge the absence of authentic data on the number of migrants in the country.
As per estimates, six crore people migrate seasonally to various states in search of livelihoods. Besides, around 8 crore people are intra-state migrants, moving from one district to another in their home state.
In June 2019, the government launched ‘One nation, One ration card’, aimed at ensuring ration card portability. This enables migrant ration-card-holders to lift their quota of grain entitlement from any Fair Price Shop (FPS) in the country by using the ration card issued in their home states or Union Territory after biometric authentication on electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) devices installed at the FPS.’
As of now 17 states—Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Jharkhand, Tripura and Daman & Diu—have implemented ration card portability. Food ministry officials said that in the next three months, 23 states would implement ration card portability. About 67 crore beneficiaries under NFSA will get benefits under one nation, one ration card scheme by August 2020.
As per food ministry data, 90% of the 23.55 crore ration cards have been seeded with Aadhaar and 85% of the 80.31 beneficiaries under NFSA listed in these ration cards have been linked through bio-metric authentication. In 90% of the total 5.39 lakh FPS, e-PoS machines have been installed. Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh are largely the only states yet to complete installation of e-PoSs and Aadhaar seeding of ration cards.
Food ministry officials said that most of the 17 states which have launched ration cards portability so far did not use the facility during the lockdown, suspending biometric authentication instead because of concerns regarding spread of COVID19. However, Uttar Pradesh, which has installed e-PoS machines at all its 80,493 FPSs, is backing biometric authentication with sanitisation.
To ensure rationa-card portability, the Centre has requested states to issue the ration card in the bi-lingual format—local language and Hindi or English. A 10-digit standard ration card number has been assigned to beneficiaries, wherein the first two digits denotes the state code. Along with 10 digits, a set of another two digits will be appended with the ration card number to create unique member IDs for each beneficiary in a ration card.
The ‘one nation, one ration card’ entails integration of the existing PDS systems or portals of states and UTs with those of the Centre under a central repository of all NFSA ration cards and beneficiaries. The central repository also ensures that no duplicate ration cards and beneficiaries exist in any state or UT.
To achieve seamless inter-state portability in ration card transactions, it is essential to have a central repository of unique ration cards’ and beneficiaries’ data under NFSA. Therefore, seeding of Aadhaar numbers becomes critical in establishing a unique record of each eligible ration card holder as well as the beneficiaries under NFSA.
The Centre must push the north-eastern states to take up Aadhaar seeding of ration cards as well as installation of e-PoS machines at all FPSs.
Food ministry officials said that there have been suggestions about rolling out Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) which entails cash transfer instead of physical grain delivery. Currently, DBT is being implemented only in Union Territories of Chandigarh and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Besides the government must study migration pattern to ascertain the quantum of grain requirement under NFSA across states. Based on this assessment, the foodgrains allocation to states could be arranged.
The author is Senior consultant, ICRIER. Views expressed are personal