India’s food-rationing system has been fully digitised in 24 states, allowing beneficiaries to receive subsidised food handouts in any of these states, a boost for migrant labourers, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan said on Saturday.
The “One Nation One Ration Card” system, a digital platform which ensures in-kind welfare benefits move with migrants, now covers 650 million citizens in these states these states and Union Territories. It will cover rest of the states by March 2021.
The nationwide portability of rations comes as a boost for migrants, potentially helping them to come back to cities from their home states, after a widespread lockdown imposed in March to contain the spread of Covid-19 forced millions to go without ration.
In May, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while announcing the Modi government’s Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus plan, had said that following the coronavirus outbreak, the government would accelerate the process of creating a portable food security system.
The One Nation One Ration Card system currently enables 80% of all ration card holders under the National Food Security Act to withdraw their entitled quota of foodgrains from any fair price shop anywhere in the country,” Paswan said.
The Internet-based system links Aadhaar biometric details of ration cards holders with their entitlement details, enabling a software to allow dispensation of foodgrains to any beneficiary anywhere. Until now, beneficiaries could only get access to rations in their home towns, which meant those who migrated elsewhere for work lost food aid.
“If one beneficiary member of a family which hails from Ranchi works in a factory in Chennai, he can withdraw his share of the quota as subsidised grains are allotted on a per head basis,” Paswan said.
The portability system essentially allows ration-card holders to draw rations from any electronically linked fair price shops.
A digitized, portable public distribution system is a boon for labour mobility because beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act who lose out on their monthly quota of subsidised food when they migrate will now be fully covered.
The scheme is now fully geared for seamless inter-state transactions in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Inter-state portability, whereby a migrant draws subsidised food in a state other than his own, was initially tried on “clusters” of 12 “contiguous” states to iron out teething problems.
Ration quota under the National Food Security Act is designed on a per capita basis. Under the law, the poor receive 5kg of foodgrain per person per month at a subsidized rate of Rs 2-3 per kg.
Experts say the programme’s design has to account for the scale of internal migration. The Economic Survey 2016-17 used some new metrics to give updated data on migration. It suggested an annual inter-state migration flow of close to 9 million from 2011 to 2016 in a “circular” fashion based on data from railways.
A novel cohort-based migration metric, a statistical tool developed by former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, revealed an annual “inter-state migrant population of about 60 million and an inter-district migration as high as 80 million” between 2001 and 2011. Subramanian had called for full portability of all welfare doles.
“The system is aimed to help migrant labourers, but we have come across routine cases of Internet connectivity and inclusion errors, whereby the needy don’t get foodgrains. So, we continue to demand universalisation of access to ration, without the need for Aadhaar,” said Ayesha, a Right to Food campaigners who goes by one name.