The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 demonstrated a paradigm shift in the approach of food security, from welfare to rights-based approach. Under this Act, around 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population is entitled to get subsidised food grains under the targeted Public Distribution System. This act has been implemented in all the states and union territories of India, and is considered to be the world’s largest food security program.
Despite such a humongous scheme, the benefits have not been able to reach all those who fall under the net of this scheme. Workers and their families who migrate in search of work have been left out. This is because each household’s ration card (through which one can avail the subsidised food grains) is linked to a particular ration shop, thus one could avail ration from that particular shop only.
Although, many states, over the years, have allowed the beneficiaries to buy rations from any fair price shops but only within that state. The centre has now launched the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme, aimed at providing nationwide portability network. Under this scheme, which is scheduled to come into force throughout India by June 2020, the beneficiaries would be able to buy rations from any fair price shops across India.
This would prove to be a great relief for those who are being left out of such benefits because of migration. There are a large number of short-term migrant workers whose families don’t shift along with them, and thus, cannot buy rations in two different states with a single ration card. Another motive behind this scheme is to curb corruption in the distribution of ration with the installation of electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) to authenticate and track the usage of ration. The scheme would not only remove the monopoly of the ration shops in any particular area but will also improve the quality of food items being distributed. This is because, now, people would not have to depend on just one shop to buy their ration, which would act as a check on each ration shop.
Currently, Andhra Pradesh-Telangana and Maharashtra-Gujarat have implemented the ration portability scheme. However, the hindrance to the success of this scheme is the lack of ePoS machines in many ration shops across the nation. Therefore, in order to make this scheme a fair and successful one, a shift from the old method of manual record-keeping to a digital real-time record-keeping method is a must.
There have also been speculations with regard to the threat to the federal structure of the nation by many political leaders. They are of the view that without a proper survey in relation to the number of people migrating to different states, such a scheme could adversely impact the PDS in their states. They say that this is because the centre has not yet given an assurance to bear the cost of the subsidised items for the workers migrating to other states.