Implement One Nation One Ration Card in Delhi at earliest: Centre to AAP govt
The Union government has asked the Delhi government to speedily implement the “One Nation One Ration Card” programme, which helps beneficiaries, especially migrant workers, to avail of subsidised food commodities from anywhere in the country, pointing out that the scheme was already functional in 32 states and Union Territories.
The move comes a day after the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party asked the Delhi government to implement the scheme if its aim was to make life better for migrant workers -- a response to a claim by Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party government that the Union government was stalling its doorstep ration delivery programme.
The One Nation, One Ration Card programme is a national platform that digitises ration cards, details of beneficiaries, monthly quota of ration under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, and allows withdrawals through electronic point of sale machines, thereby allowing the mobility of ration benefits. India provides cheap foodgrains to nearly 800 million beneficiaries across the country under the NFSA 2013.
Delhi has not yet implemented the scheme, which was first tried in four states in August 2019. A Delhi government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a letter to Delhi chief secretary on June 8, food secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said Union food minister Piyush Goyal, in February 2021, had urged the state government to “consider expeditious resumption” of electronic point of sale (e-PoS) devices in all fair price shops in Delhi for transparency in distribution of foodgrains and also to implement One Nation One Ration Card plan. “However, progress in this regard is yet to be made,” the letter said.
Delhi had suspended the installation of e-PoS devices, which are similar to card swiping machines, but has resumed the process, which is critical to One Nation One Ration Card plan. There were also disruptions due to the pandemic.
The past week saw differences arising between the Centre and the Delhi government over the new mechanism proposed by the Delhi government to distribute subsidised foodgrains.
The Delhi government has proposed home delivery of ration, which the Aam Aadmi Party, which rules Delhi, had promised in its election manifesto.
Nearly 7.2 million people in Delhi are eligible for some form of subsidized food at present, including 1.7 million ration card holders and nearly 3 million priority households, besides other additional food insecure categories identified by the Delhi government.
“The Centre’s stand is that the Delhi government can offer foodgrains to beneficiaries the way it wants to, under any scheme it chooses at notified prices, but the existing national system under NFSA should not be disturbed because it is a countrywide programme under a national law,” a senior Union government official said, requesting that he not be quoted. The Centre can offer additional grains to Delhi for any new scheme it may wish to launch, he added.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that it was a waste of resources to have two schemes trying to do the same thing. “Will there be double expenditure on the same subject in a state? This means in Delhi, the Centre and state will spend ₹2000 crore each for ration distribution? Will that be a rational arrangement?” he asked in the letter, requesting the PM to allow the state’s home delivery scheme “:in national interest” and as a way to “eliminate the ration mafia.”
Most of Delhi’s working-class and daily wager population includes migrants, who cannot withdraw their quota of subsidised grains unless the digitised system (e-PoS devices) is functional, the official said.
The One Nation One Ration Card programme is now functional in 32 states and Union Territories, covering 690 million beneficiaries, or 86% of those eligible for food security cover. Food distribution happens through a network of fair price shops that act as the final points of delivery.
“A portable public distribution system (PDS) envisaged by the One Nation One Ration Card is a boon for beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act who lose out on their monthly quota of subsidised food when they migrate out,” said Ananya Ghosh Dastidar, a former consultant with the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
A novel cohort-based migration metric, a statistical tool developed by former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, revealed an annual “interstate migrant population of about 60 million and an interdistrict migration as high as 80 million” between 2001 and 2011. Subramanian had called for full portability of all welfare doles.
Many economists say while a digitised system undoubtedly helps plug pilferages of foodgrains, over-centralisation can have welfare costs too. “Food should be available at the most convenient point, especially to those who are not still documented. This calls for a certain amount of decentralization of the PDS network,” said Rajinder Chaudhury, an economist who formerly taught at MD University, Rohtak.