A silent revolution is sweeping the country, providing nearly 80 crore Indians the unprecedented empowerment of food security – the freedom to buy heavily subsidised grains from any fair price shop (FPS) in the country. This takes welfare and the pro poor approach of the Modi government to a new high and sets in motion processes that will have a bigger transformational impact than what many people imagine.
The One-Nation-One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme is not just a high-impact welfare scheme that supports and nourishes the underprivileged. It exposes FPSS to fierce competition and is an economic catalyst, because migrants are now able to buy heavily subsidised grain in cities and can purchase other products with the money saved.
In India, about 6 crore people migrate to another state and 8 crore migrate within their state seasonally. ONORC is a game changer for migrant workers across many states including Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Earlier, when such workers went to cities to work, they lost their entitlement for subsidised grain as they were tied to the FPS back home. If they were registered at an FPS in a city, their families would have bought grain at much higher market rates.
With ONORC, the worker and the family can both get the benefits easily. Their savings are huge because apart from the heavily subsidised grains under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), they are also given free supplies under the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY).
As this is making Indian workers self-reliant, this plan has now also become a part of the PM’s technology – driven system reforms under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.
There are other far-reaching implications strong of the scheme.
For decades, the neighbourhood ration shop was a monopoly. Beneficiaries had no choice but to go to a particular FPS. Shop owners commanded a captive market and had no incentive to maintain quality.
ONORC has already made a very strong beginning.
Crores of workers, daily wagers, including urban poor such as rag pickers, street dwellers, temporary workers in the organised and unorganised sectors, and domestic workers are taking advantage of this path-breaking scheme.
Since its launch in August 2019, about 80 crore portability transactions have been recorded. This includes both intra- and inter-state transactions delivering both regular NFSA and PMGKAY foodgrains to beneficiaries.
Among these transactions, 69 crore were reported during the Covid period since April 2020.
The PM’s push for digital India has been a big enabler for the country. Not only did the country succeed in making a smooth shift to work-from-home norms during the peak of the pandemic, it also helped feed the poor and the needy. Currently, 100% of ration cards are digitised. Further, electronic point of sale devices have been installed in more than 5.3 lakh (99%) of FPSs.
This government has also run the extra mile to make sure that all the potential beneficiaries take advantage of the scheme. To facilitate this, the Department of Food and Public Distribution has launched a ‘Common Registration Facility’ on pilot basis. for 11 states/UTs to help them include more beneficiaries under NFSA.
Further, various ministries and departments have coordinated their efforts for strategic outreach and communication to make people aware about this scheme.
The government undertook a radio based campaign in Hindi and 10 other regional languages using 167 FM and 91 community radio stations.
Announcements and displays were arranged in 2,400 railway stations, to give the PM’s message to migrant workers who travel in trains. Public buses were also used to display messages.
The scheme reflects the core approach of the Modi government. Public policy is formulated in a manner that benefits the poorest of the poor and the most marginalised sections. This philosophy has been at the core of all policies and achievements in the eight transformative years of this government.
It is this philosophy and approach to governance that has given poor people bank accounts, direct cash transfers, health insurance, electricity in every village, good quality rural roads even in remote areas and cooking gas supply, among other benefits.
On the 75th anniversary of Independence, India is rapidly moving towards greater freedom to chose for all. Let us celebrate and enable this choice.