From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : ONORC Scheme
Mains level : Assurance of Food Security with the ONORC Scheme
Finance Minister has announced the nationwide rollout of a ‘One Nation, One Ration Card (ONORC)’ system in all states and UTRs by March 2021. As of now, about 20 states have come on board to implement the inter-state ration card portability.
Practice question for mains:
Q. The ‘One nation one ration card ‘scheme would bring perceptible changes to the lives of India’s internal migrant workers. Comment.
What is PDS?
- The Public distribution system (PDS) is an Indian food Security System established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution.
- PDS evolved as a system of management of scarcity through distribution of food grains at affordable prices.
- PDS is operated under the joint responsibility of the Central and the State Governments.
- The Central Government, through Food Corporation of India (FCI), has assumed the responsibility for procurement, storage, transportation and bulk allocation of food grains to the State Governments.
- The operational responsibilities including allocation within the State, identification of eligible families, issue of Ration Cards and supervision of the functioning of Fair Price Shops (FPSs) etc., rest with the State Governments.
- Under the PDS, presently the commodities namely wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene are being allocated to the States/UTs for distribution. Some States/UTs also distribute additional items of mass consumption through the PDS outlets such as pulses, edible oils, iodized salt, spices, etc.
Evolution of PDS in India
- PDS was introduced around World War II as a war-time rationing measure. Before the 1960s, distribution through PDS was generally dependant on imports of food grains.
- It was expanded in the 1960s as a response to the food shortages of the time; subsequently, the government set up the Agriculture Prices Commission and the FCIto improve domestic procurement and storage of food grains for PDS.
- By the 1970s, PDS had evolved into a universal scheme for the distribution of subsidised food
- Till 1992, PDS was a general entitlement scheme for all consumers without any specific target.
- The Revamped Public Distribution System (RPDS) was launched in June, 1992 with a view to strengthen and streamline the PDS as well as to improve its reach in the far-flung, hilly, remote and inaccessible areas where a substantial section of the underprivileged classes lives.
- In June, 1997, the Government of India launched the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) with a focus on the poor.
- Under TPDS, beneficiaries were divided into two categories: Households below the poverty line or BPL; and Households above the poverty line or APL.
- Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY): AAY was a step in the direction of making TPDS aim at reducing hunger among the poorest segments of the BPL population.
- A National Sample Survey exercise pointed towards the fact that about 5% of the total population in the country sleeps without two square meals a day. In order to make TPDS more focused and targeted towards this category of population, the “Antyodaya Anna Yojana” (AAY) was launched in December, 2000 for one crore poorest of the poor families.
- In September 2013, Parliament enacted the National Food Security Act, 2013. The Act relies largely on the existing TPDS to deliver food grains as legal entitlements to poor households. This marks a shift by making the right to food a justiciable right.
How does the PDS system function?
- The Central and State Governments share responsibilities in order to provide food grains to the identified beneficiaries.
- The centre procures food grains from farmers at a minimum support price (MSP)and sells it to states at central issue prices. It is responsible for transporting the grains to godowns in each state.
- States bear the responsibility of transporting food grains from these godowns to each fair price shop (ration shop), where the beneficiary buys the food grains at the lower central issue price. Many states further subsidise the price of food grains before selling it to beneficiaries.
Importance of PDS
- It helps in ensuring Food and Nutritional Security of the nation.
- It has helped in stabilising food prices and making food available to the poor at affordable prices.
- It maintains the buffer stock of food grains in the warehouse so that the flow of food remains active even during the period of less agricultural food production.
- It has helped in the redistribution of grains by supplying food from surplus regions of the country to deficient regions.
- The system of minimum support price and procurement has contributed to the increase in food grain production.
Issues Associated with PDS System in India
- Identification of beneficiaries: Studies have shown that targeting mechanisms such as TPDS are prone to large inclusion and exclusion errors. This implies that entitled beneficiaries are not getting food grains while those that are ineligible are getting undue benefits.
- According to the estimation of an expert group set up in 2009, PDS suffers from nearly 61% error of exclusion and 25% inclusion of beneficiaries, i.e. the misclassification of the poor as non-poor and vice versa.
- Leakage of food grains: (Transportation leakages + Black Marketing by FPS owners) TPDS suffers from large leakages of food grains during transportation to and from ration shops into the open market. In an evaluation of TPDS, the erstwhile Planning Commission found 36% leakage of PDS rice and wheat at the all-India level.
- Issue with procurement: Open-ended Procurement i.e., all incoming grains accepted even if buffer stock is filled, creates a shortage in the open market.
- Issues with storage: A performance audit by the CAG has revealed a serious shortfall in the government’s storage capacity.
- Given the increasing procurement and incidents of rotting food grains, the lack of adequate covered storage is bound to be a cause for concern.
- The provision of minimum support price (MSP) has encouraged farmers to divert land from production of coarse grains that are consumed by the poor, to rice and wheat and thus, discourages crop diversification.
- Environmental issues: The over-emphasis on attaining self-sufficiency and a surplus in food grains, which are water-intensive, has been found to be environmentally unsustainable.
- Procuring states such as Punjab and Haryana are under environmental stress, including rapid groundwater depletion, deteriorating soil and water conditions from overuse of fertilisers.
- It was found that due to the cultivation of rice in north-west India, the water table went down by 33 cm per year during 2002-08.
What is the one ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ system?
- Under the National Food Security Act, 2013, about 81 crore persons are entitled to buy subsidized foodgrain — rice at Rs 3/kg, wheat at Rs 2/kg, and coarse grains at Re 1/kg — from their designated Fair Price Shops (FPS) of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
- Currently, about 23 crore ration cards have been issued to nearly 80 crore beneficiaries of NFSA in all states and UTs.
- In the present system, a ration cardholder can buy foodgrains only from an FPS that has been assigned to her in the locality in which she lives.
- However, this will change once the ONORC system becomes operational nationally.
How would that work?
- Under the ONORC system, the beneficiary will be able to buy subsidised foodgrains from any FPS across the country.
- The new system, based on a technological solution, will identify a beneficiary through biometric authentication on electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) devices installed at the FPSs.
- This would enable that person to purchase the number of foodgrains to which she is entitled under the NFSA.
How will the system of ration card portability work?
- Ration card portability is aimed at providing intra-state as well as inter-state portability of ration cards.
- While the Integrated Management of PDS portal provides the technological platform for the inter-state portability of ration cards.
- It enables a migrant worker to buy foodgrains from any FPS across the country.
- The Annavitaran portal hosts the data of the distribution of foodgrains through E-PoS devices within a state.
- The portal enables a migrant worker or his family to avail the benefits of PDS outside their district but within their state.
- While a person can buy her share of foodgrains as per her entitlement under the NFSA, wherever she is based, the rest of her family members can purchase subsidised foodgrains from their ration dealer back home.
Revamping of the PDS
- The PDS system was marred with inefficiency leading to leakages in the system. To plug the leakages and make the system better, the government started the reform process.
- For, this purpose it used a technological solution involving the use of Aadhaar to identify beneficiaries. Under the scheme, the seeding of ration cards with Aadhaar is being done.
- Simultaneously, PoS machines are being installed at all FPSs across the country.
- Once 100 per cent of Aadhaar seeding and 100 per cent installation of PoS devices is achieved, the national portability of ration cards will become a reality.
- It will enable migrant workers to buy foodgrains from any FPS by using their existing/same ration card.
How many states have come on board?
- It was initially proposed to nationally roll out the ONORC scheme by June 1, 2020.
- So far, 17 major states and UTs have come on board to roll out the inter-state portability of ration cards under the NFSA.
- Three more states — Odisha, Mizoram, and Nagaland — are expected to come on board by June 1, taking the number of States and UTs to 20 under the One Nation, Once Ration Card System.
How has been the experience of Ration Card Portability so far?
- The facility of inter-state ration card portability is available in 20 states as of now but the number of transactions done through using this facility has been low so far.
- According to data available on the IMPDS portal, only 275 transactions have been done until May 14.
- However, the number of transactions in the intra-state ration card portability is quite high.
- The data available on the Annavitaran portal shows that about one crore transactions took place using the facility last month.
- It means that usages of intra-state ration card portability are way higher than the inter-state portability.
Back2Basics: National Food Security Act, 2013
- The NFS Act, 2013 (also Right to Food Act) aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people.
- It was signed into law on 12 September 2013, retroactive to 5 July 2013.
- The NFSA 2013 converted into legal entitlements for existing food security programmes.
- It includes the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services scheme and the Public Distribution System.
- Further, the NFSA 2013 recognizes maternity entitlements.
- The Midday Meal Scheme and the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme are universal in nature whereas the PDS will reach about two-thirds of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas).
- Pregnant women, lactating mothers, and certain categories of children are eligible for daily free cereals.