⭕️ What is the scheme about?
Under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), each beneficiary is eligible for five kg of subsidised grains per month at the rate of ₹3/kg for rice, ₹2/kg for wheat and ₹1/kg of coarse cereals. However, until recently, this has been a location-linked benefit, 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 subsidised grain at any fair price shops in the country.
⭕️ What are the benefits?
The main beneficiaries of the scheme are the country’s migrant workers. Women who change locations after marriage also find it difficult to start accessing ration benefits using a new household’s card.
⭕️ Who will gain the most?
The Centre hopes that allowing 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 digitise and integrate the food storage and public distribution system.
⭕️ What is needed to make it work?
The scheme involves the creation of a central repository of NFSA beneficiaries and ration cards, which will integrate the existing databases maintained by States, Union Territories and the Centre. Aadhaar seeding is also important as the unique biometric ID will be used to authenticate and track the usage of ration by beneficiaries anywhere in the country.
For the scheme to work, it is critical that all fair price shops are equipped with electronic point-of-sale machines (ePoS), replacing the old method of manual record-keeping of transactions with a digital real-time record. On the back-end, the Food Corporation of India’s Depot Online System is integrating all warehouses and godowns storing subsidised grain in an attempt to create a seamless flow of online information from procurement until distribution.
⭕️ 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 intra-State 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. In some rural and remote areas, ePoS connectivity also remains erratic, jeopardising the smooth functioning.