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ONORC- One Nation One Ration Card system to change the food security dynamics

One Nation One Ration Card ONORC will be implemented in all states and union territories from July 31, 2021, as per the Supreme Court’s order.

The Covid 19 pandemic has revolutionised how the world conducts its livelihood by introducing work from home, governance, healthcare, international relations, et cetera. This change is for good or bad – only time will tell, but as Winston Churchill says, never let a good crisis go to waste; the government has started reforming sectors and working. Lockdown and pandemics have forced the government to manage the lives and livelihoods of people.

Because of lockdown, many people are left without jobs, people who have jobs are demoted, and many Indians touched the poverty line. The second wave opened the government’s eyes about derailing health infrastructure, which was proven by a number of deaths because of the scarcity of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and medicines. In such cases, the absence of basic income and food safety adds fuel to the fire.

Lack of employment opportunities and poor business prospects has forced many migrant workers and businessmen to return to their villages or hometowns. In such cases, if a worker cannot avail ration from the public distribution system shops because his ration card is not registered in that particular state, he is left between the devil and the deep blue sea.

One Nation One Ration Card scheme was introduced in 2019 in four states on a pilot basis. By 1 January 2020, 12 states were added to this list. The scheme allows migrant workers to withdraw their entitled food-grain from any electronic point of sales (e-PoS) enabled FPS throughout the country via portability. Migrant workers usually have their families back in villages, hence portability will give the migrant workers a choice. They can withdraw ration in work state, and the families will have a choice to withdraw the remaining of the allotted ration elsewhere.

Apart from big businessmen who pay huge corporate taxes, migrants are also the wheels of the urban economy in India. According to the 2011 census, 45 crore domestic migrants account for 37% of the population; they are too big to be ignored. One Nation One Ration Card scheme has to be implemented so that pandemic led migrant crisis can be avoided in the future, easing the migrant welfare process.

What is the current system of distributing food-grains? Why does it need to change?

The present system of food distribution works via designated fair price shops (FPS) within concerned States under the National Food Security Act. In this system, a ration cardholder can avail the entitled share of subsidised food-grains only from designated fair price shops of that particular state.

The Centre and state governments divide responsibility to provide food-grains to identified beneficiaries; the Centre procures food-grains at minimum support prices MSP from farmers and sells them to states at central issue prices. The Centre has to transport food-grains to designated godowns of each state. The states then bear the responsibility of transporting these food-grains from godowns to fair price shops. The identified beneficiary can buy food grains at prices lower than the central issue price. Apart from providing food and nutrition security, the public distribution system also redistributes grains from food surplus regions of the country to food-deficit regions.

This system is necessary and was working fine until pandemic and lockdown marred the world. Because of lockdown and the high unemployment rate, the migrants started returning to their homes, and the issue of withdrawing ration from the workplace became a burning question. In the old system, if the beneficiary shifts to another place, he has to apply for a fresh card in the other state (we all know how slow our system works to get a new card).

Because of geographical hindrances, identified beneficiaries cannot withdraw their allotted fair share and denied the right to food. The archaic public distribution system is grappling with leakages of food grain and poor identification of beneficiaries. Studies have shown that the PDS exercise has excluded ideal beneficiaries and given undue benefits to ineligible people. Fair price shop owners have indulged in black marketing; the PDS system suffers from leakages when transporting food-grains from godowns to ration shops.

How will the one nation one ration card scheme change dynamics of food distribution?

The new ONORC system works on a technology that integrates details of beneficiaries’ ration cards, Aadhaar numbers and electronic point of sale (ePoS). A beneficiary is identified by biometric identification on EPOS at the fair price shop. Two portals, Integrated Management of Public Distribution System IM – PDS and Annavitran, work as servers, which store all the relevant data.

For the problem discussed above, migrant workers changing their workplace or returning home – the beneficiaries registered in one state can now withdraw their allotted ration  from another state. The implementation will ensure that the identified beneficiaries will withdraw ration from any PDS shop across the country- universal access to PDS food-grains, as to how the government puts it.

Since fair price shop owners indulge in black marketing, the nationwide acceptability of ration cards will ensure that the consumers choose their FPS. This will reign in the FPS owners (reinstating the “The customer is king” principle), reduce cheating, blackmail and misbehaviour. The ability to switch fair price shops will decrease discrimination based on gender and social identity like caste. Digitalising the food distribution system will help India achieve sustainable development goal two: ending hunger by 2030. According to the global hunger index, India ranks 102 out of 117 countries.

How many people will be benefited from ONORC?

Under the National Food security act, 2013, people were able to buy rice at ₹3 per KG wheat at ₹2 per KG and coarse grain at ₹1 per KG. The scheme benefited 81 crore people to purchase food grains at subsidised rates from the designated fair price shops. As of 20 June 2021 there are 23.63 crore ration cardholders and 5.46 lakh fair price shops. Apart from gargantuan numbers, it will be easy for people to withdraw their rations irrespective of geographical boundaries. Given the economic prospects, it will provide food security and peace at one front at least.

What are the concerns regarding ONORC which needs to be addressed?

To gather correct and updated information on people working in informal sectors, the Unorganised Sector Social Security Act, 2008 must be implemented  religiously. This will allow documenting informal sector workers by establishing a system of welfare boards.

The government should develop a system to collect data on poor households who migrate for work. The government should tap into intra and interstate destinations and sectors for data that employ migrants, like Mumbai, Kolkata etc. and sectors like construction, cleaning and sanitation et cetera. The government should reform all welfare schemes that identify beneficiaries on the basis of domicile or any such certificates. Schemes made for rural employment, anti-poverty, welfare and food security should be improved like ONORC to increase food entitlement.

Even after introducing the Aadhaar card to reduce exclusion error, many households have not linked their ration cards and smart cards via Aadhaar. Many households don’t yet have an Aadhaar card thereby depriving them of their fair share of food and security. The government needs to plug these loopholes to avoid such issues. Technological glitches such as changing or fading away fingerprints of construction workers and domestic labourers should be addressed. Retina authentication scan is introduced to substitute fingerprint authentication, but the machinery to scan retina should be available at all fair price shops.

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Aishwarya Ingle

I am a person who believes in freedom of human mind. A free mind is highly creative and imaginative. Imagination is not a cloth that is to neatly folded in a box, but it is fire. It can light an entire jungle or a single matchstick, it depends upon the free environment.

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