As per the archive of the Government of India, a Ration Card is a document issued under the order or authority of the State Government, as per the public distribution system, for the purchase of essential commodities from various fair price shops.
State Government provides for distinctive ration cards for people below poverty lines, above poverty lines, and other Antyodaya families and conduct periodical reviews and checking of ration cards.
About One Nation One Ration Card
Advocate Reepak Kansal filed a plea in front of the Apex Court to pre-pone the launch of the “One Nation One Ration Card” scheme which was supposed to go live in June this year to facilitate the Migrant Worker’s access to food-grain or other essential commodities in light of this recent Covid-19 pandemic and extended lockdowns.
A bench of the Top Court, comprising of Justice N V Ramana, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and B R Gavai after judging the merit of the plea, directed the Central Government to consider the possibility of adopting and implementing the Scheme at this stage.
“We direct the Union of India to consider whether it is feasible for it to implement the said scheme at this stage or not and take appropriate decision in this regard keeping in view the present circumstances,” the bench observed.
The ONORC Scheme will reduce discrimination to a large extent, no doubt. It is a prevalent incident in India that a beneficiary is denied his due ration because of gender or caste. However, with ONORC, it will allow a beneficiary to shift from one FPS to another without any hassle if they think that they have been discriminated wrongly in the previous FPS.
The beneficiaries will be able to get their ration from any FPS they want around the country, which will increase the accessibility to a considerable extent.
Challenges which lies ahead
One of the biggest challenges in this Scheme comes from the Storage and Distribution mechanism. In many places, the storage systems are not adequate to store a large number of goods and are vulnerable to leakage.
This problem can be portrayed by worrisome statistics. PRS Legislative conducted a research analysis in 2013, which showed that in 2009-10, a total 47.6 million tonnes of food-grains were allotted to the States who picked up 42.4 million tonnes for distribution. Nevertheless, in the end, only 25.3 million tonnes reached to the public for consumption (nearly 40.4% of the total grains were destroyed due to faulty storage). This shows how big the problem of leakage due to faulty storage facilities is.
NITI Aayog conducted a study in 2016, which revealed another big problem which is exclusion from the beneficiary list, the biggest victim of which is mostly the marginalized sections of the society. Another big problem is corruption in the PDS system, where some people duplicate ration cards and obtain undue benefits.
Further, the One Nation One Ration card scheme will be available to beneficiaries only after successful Aadhar authentication at Electronic point of sale (ePos) devices. For that to be successful, the e-Pos device needs to be available in fair price shops designated for ration distribution.
Though nearly 72% of shops in India have access to this automatic process, the same is not the case with the North-eastern states. So far, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Manipur have no e-Pos in any of the FPS. Though Meghalaya and Assam have some, the percentage is staggeringly low. So meeting the June 2020 deadline for this Scheme will be highly challenging as the efficiency of the Scheme is mostly dependent on those e-Pos devices.
Co-ordination between the States is going to be another significant hurdle. For example, once the requisite food grains are received from the Central funds, various States follow various distribution systems. For example, Tamilnadu follows a universal public distribution system where Haryana distinguishes between Antyodaya Anna Yojana and priority households. However, after the One Nation One Ration Card scheme is online, there needs to be a uniformity in the distribution system amongst the States. Further, they need to make their distribution system much more flexible with sudden changes as the beneficiary number is set to increase after the ONORC scheme.
Coming to the present COVID-19 crisis, a big question is whether the ONORC scheme if implemented now, will help the migrant workers who are suffering the most. The answer is a big no as most of those workers have left their ration cards in their villages. So until unless the Govt. plans to ensure that everyone gets rations from FPS, the entire Scheme can be ineffective.
Further, there is another grave possibility. The ONORC Scheme will increase the number of beneficiaries to a large extent. Whether the FPS and other PDS mechanism can sustain this sudden influx is a big question.
Another aspect that needs our attention also. Under the ONORC scheme, the beneficiaries will have to collect their ration from the FPS by physically presenting themselves, and there is bound to be a lot of human contacts. When the Nation is fighting the COVID-19 and practising isolation under lockdown, such human gathering to collect ration can bring further complications. Though the FPS can maintain social distancing while distributing ration to some extent, it cannot be expected that every FPS in the Nation will practice such. So there will remain a possibility that COVID spreads from those FPS.
The Government can assess the feasibility of introducing feedback and rating system in PDS and FPS system where the customers will be able to rate the service providers based on their experience. This will help the Government to identify those FPS who misbehave and misallocates with the beneficiary. Further, it will make the FPS more cautious and polite in their service, knowing that they are answerable. This model has proved to be successful with Uber or other similar service providers, so without any doubt, its worth a try. If this model proves to be a success, then it will help in weeding out corruption to a considerable extent, in the grass-root level itself.
ONORC scheme can change the life of a million of people, and no doubt is a very ambitious project. Nevertheless, how successful it is will ultimately depend on how the administration can tackle the issues mentioned above. The entire project depends on the coordination between States and the Union Govt, availability of ePos devices in all the FPS shops. To be properly implemented, the system needs to be backed by proper infrastructure. As a responsible citizen of this great Nation, we can only hope that all the challenges are successfully dealt with.
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