Addressing the nation on the fiscal stimulus announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in a press conference on May 14, said national portability will be achieved in the 'One Nation One Ration Card' scheme by March 2021 across the country.
The announcement was made in her second address describing the contours of the Centre's stimulus measures in view of the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 lockdown.
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What is the One Nation One Ration Card scheme?
The ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ is a central government initiative that would allow eligible beneficiaries to avail food grain they are entitled to, under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) from any fair price shop (FPS) across the country. They would be able to do so without the need to obtain a new ration card for the new location.
Under the scheme, ration cardholders can get food grain from any ration depot across the nation.
"The government aims to achieve 100 percent coverage by March 2021," the Finance Minister said during today's address.
"67 crore people across 23 states have been covered under One Nation One Ration scheme that covers 83% of PDS population," the FM added.
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Is the scheme new? Wouldn't it take time to implement?
The question is important because the announcements made by the government— yesterday, today and then those that will be made in the coming days— are focused on the coronavirus crisis and its impact on the country. That crisis is immediate.
In this context, the government has announced the scheme keeping in mind thousands of migrant workers who are making their way back to their respective states after the announcement of national lockdown.
However, the basic contours of this scheme had been chalked out by the government even before the COVID-19 crisis struck India and, indeed, the world.
The government had, in 2019, launched inter-state portability of ration cards between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and Gujarat as a part of this scheme. That was a pilot project. At that time, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan, had called it a "historic day".
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So, how does this scheme work?
The basic function of a ration card, issued to head of the family depending on the number of members and the financial position of the applicant, is to get food grains at subsidised prices.
This process has, over the course of years, evolved into distribution of different types of ration cards depending on the financial condition of the applicants.
Ration cards are issued by state governments, so the food can be obtained by a family only from the designated ration shops within the borders of the particular state. So if a person were to shift to some other state, he or she would need to apply for a new ration card in that state.
But with the One Nation One Ration scheme, food can now be bought in any state without the need to apply for a new ration card.
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Why is this important in today's context?
The primary reason is because migrants across the country are moving towards their home states after the announcement of national lockdown closed down businesses and the migrant workers were left with no means to earn their living.
This scheme would allow the beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), which covers over 80 crore people, to obtain the foodgrain they are entitled to in any state— whether they are staying behind, or on the move.