Uttar Pradesh and Bihar joined the Centre’s ration card portability scheme on International Labour Day, offering some hope that their huge migrant worker populations can start accessing subsidised and free foodgrains in many of the States where they have been left stranded by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu also joined the national cluster under the Food Ministry’s One Nation One Ration Card scheme on Thursday, taking the total number of integrated States and Union Territories to 17, according to a Food Ministry statement.
The other States which are already part of the national cluster are Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana and Tripura.
June 1 deadline
All remaining States and Union Territories are supposed to come on board by June 1. However, the integration of States is running behind schedule, with a number of remaining States yet to complete installation of electronic point of sale machines at all ration shops and seeding of Aadhaar data into their NFSA databases.
In a mid-April interview, Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan told The Hindu that “the project has been halted now because of the pandemic”. However, on April 28, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to consider whether it was possible to implement the scheme, keeping in mind the plight of migrants left stranded by the pandemic.
The addition of five new States potentially means nearly 60 crore beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) can now use their ration cards, issued in their home States, to pick up their entitled quota of foodgrains from any ration shop of their choice in these 17 States and Union Territories.
However, the Centre has qualified that actual implementation is still dependent on “on-field readiness”, so it remains to be seen when workers start using the facility. Also, Aadhaar is a precondition for availing this facility as the biometric ID is used to ensure that beneficiaries are not claiming foodgrains in multiple States, above their entitled quota.
The Food Ministry has earlier clarified that a single family holding one ration card can split the locations from where they pick up their ration. If one migrant worker from the family is in a distant city while the rest of the family remains in their home village, both can avail themselves of a 50% portion of the ration allocation in the two different locations by providing ration card and Aadhaar authentication.
The Food Ministry has activated the facility for web-services for inter-State transactions and monitoring through central dashbooards with immediate effect. All 17 States have been requested to formally start seamless portability operations in a single cluster with effect from May 1, “or at the earliest, depending on their on-field readiness”, said the statement.