ONORC Scheme Boosts Ration Access

ONORC Scheme Boosts Ration Access

Relevance: GS- ll Government Policies and Interventions.

Context: Since the introduction of the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme in Delhi, the count of individuals benefiting from it has been on the rise annually. The most recent figures from the Food and Supplies Department indicate that this year, a total of 30 lakh individuals utilised ONORC to access ration from fair price shops in the city.

What is ONORC Scheme:

  • The portability of food security has been achieved throughout the entire country via the ONORC program, which commenced as a pilot project on August 9, 2019, in four states and has now completed three years.

  • The One Nation One Ration Card Scheme, ONORC, is a technology-driven initiative by the Central Government aimed at achieving nationwide portability of ration cards under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) of 2013. 

  • The scheme, which originated in Gujarat, encompasses the following key features:

  • National Implementation: ONORC utilises information technology to enable the portability of ration cards across the entire country, ensuring a unified system under NFSA.

  • Migrant Inclusion: The scheme specifically caters to NFSA beneficiaries, particularly migrants, allowing them to claim either full or partial shares of subsidised food grains from any Fair Price Shop (FPS) nationwide.

  • Biometric Authentication: Beneficiaries can utilise existing ration cards for biometric authentication, using fingerprints or irises through Aadhaar identification during the process of claiming subsidised food grains.

  • Family Benefit: ONORC extends its benefits to the family members of migrants residing back home, enabling them to claim the remaining subsidised food grains on the same ration card.

  • Mobile App Integration: To facilitate the seamless implementation of the ONORC scheme, the central government introduced the "MERA RATION" mobile app in May 2021, providing a user-friendly platform for beneficiaries to access the scheme.

Launch Date:

  • The One Nation One Ration Card Scheme (ONORC) was initiated on August 1, 2019.

  • Initial Implementation: The scheme was first introduced to enable inter-state ration card portability in four states: Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat.

  • Expansion: By June 2022, the ONORC scheme had been extended nationwide, now including Assam among the states covered.

Ministries Involved:

  • The overseeing ministry for the One Nation One Ration Card Scheme is the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, serving as the primary regulatory authority for India's ONRC initiative. 

  • The Department of Food and Public Distribution is responsible for executing the One Nation One Ration Card, acting as the implementing body.

Objectives of One Nation One Ration Card:

  • Beneficiary-Centric Inter-State Portability: The goal of the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) is to establish a beneficiary-centric inter-state ration card portability program. 

  • This initiative aims to enhance accessibility to subsidised food grains across state borders.

  • Removing Geographical Hindrance: The scheme facilitates the targeting of beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) by implementing an inter-state ration card portability system, thereby eliminating geographical barriers to food distribution.

  • Empowering AtmaNirbhar for Food Security: The primary objective of ONORC is to empower all NFSA beneficiaries or card holders, enabling them to achieve self-reliance (AtmaNirbhar) in terms of food security anywhere in the country. 

  • This emphasises individual autonomy in accessing essential food supplies.

  • Flexible Access through Ration Card or Aadhaar Number:   Beneficiaries have the flexibility to claim a full or partial share of their subsidised food grains from any Fair Price Shop (FPS) dealer across the country. 

  • This can be done using either their ration card number or Aadhaar number, providing convenience and adaptability in the distribution process.

Key Features of One Nation One Ration Card Scheme:

  • National Coverage and Beneficiary Reach: The One Nation, One Ration Card (ONORC) initiative is currently operational in 35 states/Union Territories, extending its services to approximately 77 Crore beneficiaries, constituting nearly 96.8% of the total National Food Security Act (NFSA) population in the country.

  • Flexible Access to Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS): Under ONORC, ration cardholders now enjoy the flexibility of accessing the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) and obtaining their entitled foodgrains from any nearby Fair Price Shop (FPS) across the nation.

  • Technological Backbone - IM-PDS Portal: The Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) portal serves as the technological foundation for achieving interstate ration card portability. 

  • This platform facilitates seamless coordination and communication in the distribution network.

  • Implementation through IT-Driven System: Ration card portability is made possible through the installation of Electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) devices in each Fair Price Shop (FPS). 

  • This IT-driven system ensures efficient tracking and distribution of subsidised food grains.

  • Overcoming Geographical Constraints: Prior to the implementation of ONORC, beneficiaries or ration cardholders were confined to receiving their subsidised food grains solely from the designated Fair Price Shop (FPS) in their locality, highlighting the transformative impact of the new system.

Benefits of One Nation One Ration Card Scheme:

  • Elimination of Duplicate and Fake Ration Cards: The scheme offers numerous advantages, foremost among them being the eradication of duplicate and fraudulent ration cards, ensuring a more accurate and efficient distribution system.

  • Reduced Food Grain Leakage: By implementing the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC), there is a significant reduction in the leakage of food grains, leading to improved efficiency in the distribution process.

  • Enhanced Convenience for Migrating Beneficiaries: Under the previous system, ration cardholders could only access subsidised food grains within their respective states. 

  • ONORC removes this limitation, providing greater convenience for beneficiaries who relocate, ensuring they can still avail themselves of their entitled food grains without the need for a new ration card.

  • Enabling Right to Food Across States: The ONORC scheme breaks down geographical barriers, enabling ration cardholders to exercise their right to food across state boundaries without the need for obtaining a new ration card in the migrated state.

  • Inclusive Support for Migrant Population: With approximately 37% of India's population being migrant labourers, the ONORC policy ensures the right to food for all citizens, irrespective of their geographical location.

  •  This is particularly crucial for those who frequently move from one place to another.

  • Reduction in Social Discrimination: The One Nation One Ration Card policy plays a vital role in reducing social discrimination influenced by factors such as caste, gender, and class

  • It particularly benefits disadvantaged groups, including women, in the process of accessing the Public Distribution System (PDS).

  • Leakage Reduction through Deduplication: The ONORC scheme's foundation lies in deduplication, effectively reducing leakages by ensuring that individuals do not feature as beneficiaries in multiple stages. 

  • Additionally, the integration of biometrics, such as Aadhaar, adds a layer of corruption prevention to the system.

Challenges of the One Nation One Ration Card Scheme:

  • Exclusion Error:  The Aadhaar-linked ration cards and smart cards in the digitized Public Distribution System effectively reduce leakages. 

  • However, post Aadhaar seeding, there has been a notable increase in exclusion errors. 

  • Certain segments of society still lack access to Aadhaar Cards, resulting in the deprivation of food security for these sections.

  • Disruption in Supplies at Fair Price Shops (FPS): The monthly allocation of food grains to Fair Price Shops (FPS) is based on the associated population. 

  • The implementation of the One Nation One Ration Card has the potential to disrupt the equilibrium at FPSs. 

  • Some shops may face an influx of a higher number of ration cards compared to others, leading to potential chaos.

  • Technical Errors: As the ONORC scheme is digitised, it is susceptible to technical limitations inherent in digitization efforts in India. 

  • While technical glitches are anticipated, these issues are likely to manifest at the grassroots level. 

  • Addressing these concerns diligently can mitigate potential problems arising from technical challenges in the implementation of the One Nation One Ration Card scheme.

  • The quality of services is markedly inferior for the subaltern groups with latent methods of discrimination such as lack of information, mixing of inferior grains, longer waiting time and, at times, even verbal abuse.

Facts about Fair Price Shop (FPS):

  • Legal Status: A Fair Price Shop (FPS) is a public ration store operating under the licensing provisions of Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act of 1955.

  • Statutory Definition: The term "Fair Price Shop" is explicitly defined in Section 2(4) of the National Food Security Act, 2013.

  • Primary Function: The key role of an FPS is to distribute essential commodities to ration card holders as part of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TDPS).

  • Operational Presence in India: In India, the Public Distribution System (PDS) comprises approximately 5.38 lakh Fair Price Shops (FPSs) that play a crucial role in facilitating the distribution of essential commodities.

Way Forward:

  • Enhanced Connectivity through BharatNet: Establishing a link between every Fair Price Shop (FPS) and the BharatNet Project is essential to boost internet penetration, ensuring seamless connectivity for the implementation of ONORC.

  • Adequate Food Quotas from Central Government: The central government should allocate sufficient food quotas to states, aligning with their specific food security requirements. 

  • This ensures an ample supply of essential commodities for beneficiaries.

  • Development of AI-Based ONORC e-Platform: Creating a dedicated ONORC e-platform infused with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities is crucial. 

  • This platform can streamline processes, predict demand, and efficiently issue ration cards to migrants.

  • Transition to Food Coupon System or Direct Benefit Transfer: Considering long-term objectives, there is a proposal to replace the Public Distribution System (PDS) with either a food coupon system or direct benefit transfer.

  •  This transition aims to align with World Trade Organization rules for a more effective and modernised approach to food distribution.

Key points:

  • Assam has recently become the 36th State/Union Territory to embrace the implementation of the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) initiative.

  • The government has introduced the 'MERA RATION' mobile application to optimise the benefits of the ONORC plan. 

  • This app, available in 13 languages, offers real-time information to beneficiaries, enhancing their overall experience.

Under the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme, individuals holding Public Distribution System (PDS) cards now possess the flexibility to obtain their entitled food grains from any nearby Fair Price Shop (FPS) across the country through the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).

Advait IAS