One Nation One Ration Card: Ensuring Food Security For All
On June 27, Food Minister announced plans to move towards a system of ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ (ONORC). The system, once introduced, would enable beneficiaries to get their quota of grains from any ration shop of their own choice across the country which will be of considerable utility to migrants.
- Until now, ration card holders had been entitled to purchase essential commodities from ration shops within the state issuing the card.
- However, as per the 2011 Census, 4.1 crore people were inter-state migrants and 1.4 crore people migrated (inter and intra-state) in search of better opportunities.
- In cases where a ration card holder migrates to another state, he or she faces issues in availing themselves of the subsidised essential commodities from their original ration cards in the new state.
- Low Bargaining power of Migrants: Given the quintessential low bargaining power associated with the fact of being a migrant, the costs are generally steeper for migrant families.
- Migration of Women after Marriage: After marriage, a woman needed to get her name removed from the ration card issued to her parents, and get it added to the ration card issued to her husband’s family.
- Control over Ration Cards: Research clearly shows how locational heterogeneity and complexity of social relations are a major determining factor in accessing PDS. Despite being a universal right, control over ration cards becomes a strong instrument for discriminating against women, the lower castes and the economically less powerful.
- Poor Quality of Service: The quality of services is markedly inferior for the subaltern groups with latent methods of discrimination such as lack of information, mixing of inferior grains, longer waiting time and, at times, even verbal abuse. In the absence of mobility victim was forced to buy from the unjust PDS vendor. There is widespread denial of entitlement, with households not getting the quantity or paying the price that they are entitled to.
- Better Competition: There is a need for introducing corrections in PDS through competition. 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.
- Mobility: The One Nation, One Ration Card scheme attempts to eliminate these problems. After the implementation of ONORC, the beneficiaries will be able to purchase essential commodities at any ration shop across India.
- Present Status: Currently, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Jharkhand and Tripura are 12 states where ration card portability has been implemented. It will be implemented across the country from June 1, 2020.
- Currently the beneficiaries can lift 50 per cent of their entitlement under this portability scheme. It should be made 100 per cent at the earliest as food and nutrition are non-negotiable entitlements.
- 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 government can improve PDS by closer monitoring and control. Those PDS dealers who perform better could be rewarded and PDS with poor services should be penalised.
- Along with ONORC, digitalisation would make the system more beneficial and self-correcting.
- The availability of point of sale (PoS) systems at PDS shops, and its functioning needs to be ensured to check compromises in the entitlements.