Author: Shawaiz Nisar
3rd Year B.A. LL.B (Hons.)
Rajiv Gandhi National Law University, Punjab
In March 2020, the finance minister of India declared the “one nation one ration card” policy to be rolled out before March 2021. The policy is a nationwide framework to be implemented across all the States and Union Territories of the country. According to the policy, the ration card shall be universally applicable throughout the country, meaning that any cardholder can get ration from any ration shop in the country.
Currently, around 24 states have already implemented the interstate portability of ration cards, which means people belonging to one of these states can get ration from the ration shop of another state. The Finance Minister, while announcing the policy, stated that it will enable the migrant workers to access PDS benefits from any ration shop in the country.
Currently, the ration cardholders cannot buy the subsidized food grains except the shop they are registered with. Therefore, migrant workers suffer a lot since they cannot buy the subsidized food grains from the shops of the migrating state as they are not registered there. They are forced to buy expensive food grains from regular shops.
2. ABOUT THE POLICY
Under the National Food Security Act 2013, around 81 crore people belonging to the weaker sections are entitled to subsidized food grains from the Fair Price Shops (FPS). The new policy aims to make ration available to cardholders from any of the 5.4 lakh FPS of their choice, without requiring to obtain a new ration card.
The new policy is based on biometric authentication on an electronic Point Sale (ePOS) to be installed at the FPS. Through this technological system, people entitled to food grains under the Food Security Act shall be provided with the ration anywhere throughout the country.
The government had been working on the project over the past two years since it launched an Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) scheme in April 2018, as an initiative to reform the public distribution system. The distribution system was marred with inefficiency and to improve the same, reforms were started.
One of the requirements for the scheme is the seeding of the ration card with Aadhaar. PoS machines are being installed at every fair price shop in the country to achieve nationwide portability of the ration cards. The portability scheme has been operationalized in 24 states but the number of transactions via the new method has not been encouraging. In July, less than 2,000 transactions benefiting less than 13,000 people occurred via the new system.
3. OBSTACLES, RISKS, AND GAPS IN THE SCHEME
1) Seeding of ration cards with Aadhaar
To make this scheme functional, all ration cards are required to be seeded with Aadhaar. The Aadhaar Card scheme is very controversial in itself and even the Supreme Court recognized and curbed the overreach of the platform. It is seemingly very easy for people to make fake Aadhaar Cards. Earlier, in May 2020 in Pokhari, Uttar Pradesh, around 250 cards with the same image were found by the police. India spends, reported that these incidents are on the rise. Nearly 164 Aadhaar related frauds happened since 2011, while most of them came to light in 2018. Since February 2012 929 Aadhar Cards have been deactivated by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
The use of Aadhaar cards for the issuance of essential commodities would start a fresh wave of Aadhaar related frauds. People in India, particularly, the migrant labourers are not aware of the technology and what data should be shared or not.
2) Ensuring Availability of Ration Consistent with Migration Flows
This is very important as it would determine the overall efficiency and fulfil the objective of the scheme. The number of food grains available at the ration shops must be following the number of migrants coming into that shop/area, on an average. Considering the existing loopholes and gaps in the public distribution system and India’s food security program, it would be a big challenge for the authorities. Additionally, there is no accurate data on the portability of poor families moving to work, finding intra-and inter-state goals and segments utilizing the labourers.
3) Fear of contagion
Although it is a short-term issue but it is very important to be addressed. At a time when employment attendance led to an increase in contagion, people are mandated to use their fingerprint (biometrics) for getting their essential supplies. The government should refer to some other alternative for time being to prevent further spread of infection.
4) Connectivity Issue
To make the world’s biggest food-security program sufficiently versatile, we need constant connectivity. Electronic purpose-of-sale(ePOS) machines and administrators at conveyance shops will need to be familiar with operational requirements. The territories which require this program most i.e., rustic zones need the proper infrastructure to support this scheme effectively. This issue was also preempted by the PRS which expressed that the inclusion of ePOS machines at reasonable value shops is deficient, given that individuals still utilize old-school techniques like booklets to keep a count of beneficiaries. Similarly, it said that ePoS availability stays flighty, endangering the smooth implementation of the scheme.
5) Aadhaar Card won’t Replace Ration Card
Aadhaar card will only supplement the ration card rather than replacing it. This means that to prevent one member from taking all ration for the household, it possibly leaves other family members stranded in other states, without food and ration.
6) Domicile Based Schemes
Currently, there are some social sectors, anti-poverty, employment generation, and many other schemes based on domicile access. Making them universal along the lines of one nation one ration card policy would be a serious challenge for the state authorities as well.
4. POSITIVES OF THE POLICY
1) Universal Application of Ration Card
In the previous system, people could only get ration from the Public Distribution Shops (PDS) where they have been registered. In case a person migrated to another state or wanted to get ration from some other PDS, he was not entitled to ration unless a new ration card was registered with a new PDS. Now, people can get ration from any PDS in the country (within or outside the state) without the requirement of a new ration card.
2) Consumer Friendly
Earlier people could only get ration from the PDS where they have been registered even within their state. Now, customers can choose from any number of PDS to get their ration. In case a dealer is not friendly, the customers can switch to another one.
3) Potential to Reduce Hunger
This achievement, however, will depend on the proper implementation of the scheme. India, which is very high in the World Hunger Index (Ranks 102 among 107 nations), can get a boost as 37% (2011 census) of the population of the country migrates from one state to another. Due to the non-availability of subsidized ration in the migrating state, they are not able to fill their stomachs. The new policy has the potential to address this concern by providing ration in any part of the country, which was not possible earlier.
5. WAY FORWARD
The ‘one nation one ration card’ policy is a good effort to make accessibility of food grains universal throughout the country. This policy has the potential to reduce poverty and hunger in India. However, the proper implementation of the scheme and addressing the issues highlighted above are required. Further, proper data, a dedicated e-commerce platform, and social auditing are also required to make the policy a success. Lastly, Integrated Child Development Services, mid-day Meals, immunization, health care, and other facilities for poor migrant households should also be made portable to ensure an integrated universal system.
 Kumar Anshuman, Adding four more states, 24 states in the country get linked to ‘One Nation One Ration Card’,
 Priscilla Jebaraj, Less than 2,000 inter-State transactions under One Nation One Ration Card scheme in July,
 Ajay, 250 Aadhaar cards thrown in Pokhat, what is the secret of a photo in each card, https://www.livehindustan.com/uttar-pradesh/story-250-aadhar-cards-thrown-in-pond-in-mahrajganj-same-photo-pasted-on-every-card-3195315.html.
 Alison Saldhana, 164 Aadhaar-Related Frauds Reported Since 2011, Most in 2018: New Database,
 Syed Mohammed, 929 Aadhaar cards deactivated since 2012 in Hyderabad,
Sakshi Balani, Functioning of the Public Distribution, https://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/general/1388728622~~TPDS%20Thematic%20Note.pdf
 BusinessToday.In, India falls behind Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal in global hunger index; ranks 102nd among 107 countries,
Supriyo De, Internal Migration in India Grows, But Inter-State Movements Remain Low, https://blogs.worldbank.org/peoplemove/internal-migration-india-grows-inter-state-movements-remain-low.