Context: one nation one ration card significance and challenges
- Ration card means a document issued under an order or authority of the State Government for the purchase of essential commodities from the fair price shops under the Public Distribution System (PDS) / Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
- Essentially it is a card / document that enable rationing of scarce commodities. In the present day context, ration card may not be necessarily for the distribution of scarce commodities; rather, it is a general tool for implementing welfare measures.
- State Governments issue distinctive Ration Cards to Above Poverty Line, Below Poverty Line and Antyodaya families (means those poorest families from amongst Below Poverty Line (BPL) families entitled to receive food grains.
What is the need for one ration card?
- Migration: The mobility of the poor inside the country for employment is quite complex and multifaceted. A majority of poor households practice temporary or seasonal migration in India.
- According to some academic estimation, the seasonal rural-to-urban migration in India is somewhere around 10crore people, who work as informal workers in urban areas. The migrant workers in these sectors are excluded from accessing PDS at their place of work.
- Moreover, most of the anti-poverty, rural employment, welfare and food security schemes were historically based on domicile-based access and restricted people to access government social security, welfare and food entitlements at their place of origin.
- Bargaining power: Given the quintessential low bargaining power associated with the fact of being a migrant, the costs are generally steeper for migrant families.
- One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC), by doing away with duplication and eligibility-related cost escalations, will benefit them significantly.
- Failure of legislations: Although there are provisions under the Inter State Migrant Workers Act of 1979 to register inter-state migrant workers, state governments have failed to register such workers and create databases about them, either at source and destination.
- Discrimination: the experience with PDS depends considerably on the last node of delivery-the fair price shop (FPS). Across the three researched States Bihar, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh beneficiaries complained about discrimination by the dealers, especially against women and in terms of providing quality services.
- ONORC will give the beneficiaries the opportunity to opt for the dealer of their choice. If any dealer misbehaves or misallocates, the beneficiary can switch to another FPS shop instantly.
- Entitlement: There is widespread denial of entitlement, with households not getting the quantity or paying the price that they are entitled to. ONORC can shift the bargaining power from the PDS dealer towards beneficiaries. ONORC lets the beneficiaries choose the PDS shop that best delivers on the attributes.
Challenges before one nation one ration card:
- Data: The authorities can be expected to encounter hard-hitting ground realities for designing and implementing the scheme because lack of exact data on the mobility of poor households migrating to work, locating intra- and inter-state destinations and sectors employing the workers.
- Legislation: the domicile-based legislation for accessing government schemes and social security needs serious rethinking before making ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ portable.
- NFSA defines food security as nutritional security. Therefore, portability of Integrated Child Development Services, Mid-Day Meals, immunization, health care and other facilities for poor migrant households can’t be neglected and should be made portable.
- Digitalisation: It is feared that both Aadhar and digital ration card may exclude either a person who migrates alone, or migrates with his family or the left-behind vulnerable family member who stays back in the village.
- There are multiple social security, welfare, food and anti-poverty schemes in India, in addition to an array of labor laws. On the other hand, the poor and vulnerable population is more mobile today in searching for better livelihoods, wages and opportunities for their families beyond their native villages. They certainly need a better access to both, welfare and labor laws to protect their rights and entitlements.
- Point of sale (PoS): most of the states and fair price shops don’t have PoS machines and lack of internet connection compromise it’s working.
- While ONORC has the potential to improve outcomes particularly for the subaltern groups, like any delivery mechanism, the entire value chain of making the system work needs to be closely monitored and backed by infrastructure.
- The availability of point of sale (PoS) systems at PDS shops, and its functioning needs to be ensured to check compromises in the entitlements.
- Therefore, the ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ should create inclusion in food schemes, both, at source and destination, without negating the very spirit of ensuring household food security of the migrant family.