Creating a new welfare paradigm for migrants
PDS portability will help them, but education, health, voting must followUpdated: Jul 14, 2019 20:54 IST
In a move that can positively impact the lives of India’s citizens who depend on the welfare system for their basic needs, the Centre is planning to make ration cards portable in the country by June 30, 2020. As reported by this newspaper on Saturday, the project will link data of all ration card holders to a single server so that a beneficiary will be able to draw her quota of foodgrains, available under the National Food Security Act, 2013, from any Public Distribution System (PDS) outlet in the country. At present, ration cards are restricted to where a PDS recipient lives.
This has been the case because social and political rights in India have long been based on the assumption that people continue to live where they are born. But, as data shows, migration is a reality in India. Migration, as Chinmay Tumbe writes in India Moving, is fuelled by all kinds of factors: economic, climate change, civil strife, caste discrimination, and sometimes a combination of aspirations and desperation. Lack of portability of PDS rights mean that these people depend either on their employers or labour contractors for food provisions or purchase expensive food in the open market. This significantly increases their cost of living, affects their nutritional intake, and reduces the additional earnings they could remit to their families.
Once the portability of PDS rights is put in place, the Centre must do the same with other welfare schemes, such as education and health. Also, equally important is the portability of voting rights, as Indrajit Roy, a scholar at the University of York, argued in a column on these pages. The voting rights of many migrants are restricted to their villages, despite the fact that they give the best part of their working lives to the city. On the one hand, this reduces their value to the destination locality’s politicians, who do not need their votes to win elections. And. on the other, it sees them excluded from the electoral process if they are unable to go back to their homes during polls to cast their votes. A study conducted by the Aajeevika Bureau and their partners revealed that over 60% of itinerant migrants were unable to cast their votes in at least one election for the simple reason that they were away from home. This needs to change.