A technological upgrade to India’s public distribution system (PDS), managed by the Food Corporation of India (FCI), will soon come as a boon for beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act who lose out on their monthly quota of subsidised grains when they migrate from their home towns or villages in search of work.
Under the food security law, which grants the poor a legal right to cheap food, beneficiaries receive 5kg of foodgrain per person per month at a subsidized rate of Rs 2-3 per kg.
By September, poor migrant workers or households from any part of the country working in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai, or any other city with a high migrant population, will be able to draw their rations from these places under special provisions.
Also, by June 30, 2020, the food ministry will put in place full nationwide portability of ration cards, meaning any beneficiary will be able to draw their ration from any shop within a state, regardless of his or her usual place of abode.
The food ministry has issued special instructions to state governments to ensure special arrangements for distribution of ration to migrant populations in major cities, food and public distribution minister Ram Vilas Paswan said.
According to the minister, the government is linking all ration cards across the country with Aadhaar cards and all states would be switching to grain distribution through point-of-sale (PoS) machines. “Work is being done on a war footing to ensure ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme,” the minister said.
The project, being implemented across the country, envisages linking data of all ration card holders to a single server such that any beneficiary, anywhere in the country, will be able to draw their quota of foodgrains from any public distribution outlet of their choice after June 30, 2020.
Work on integrating the entire PDS with the depot online system, or DOS, to ensure seamless working of the National Food Security Act is in the final stages. Under it, the FCI will provide an internet gateway for integrating DOS with state governments within four months. After that, within two months, states will integrate their warehouse management systems with DOS.
Currently, the PDS operates through handheld OiS machines in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana and Tripura. In these states, any beneficiary can collect their rations from any PDS outlet in that state.
“Portability of ration cards will help migrant populations in availing of their legal entitlements of food but seeding of Aadhaar with ration cards has led to exclusion in some states, as we saw in the case of Jharkhand last year. This is where caution is required,” said Asit Upadhayay, a Right to Food activist from the state.