Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday announced the launch of ‘one nation one ration card’ as part of the second tranche of her economic package to benefit migrant labourers who are currently either stranded outside their states due to the lockdown or have no access to fair price shops where they are registered.
Along with this, the Centre will also provide free food grains to those migrants who have no ration cards for the next two months. "Migrants who are neither registered under national food security act or state card beneficiaries will be provided 5 kg of grains per person and 1 kg chana per family per month for two months," said Sitharaman.
The government has been facing criticism for its handling of the migrant crisis as lakhs still continue to walk back hundreds of kilometres to their home states as their income dried up because of the lockdown.
"There is a legitimate concern about migrants returning to their home states. We are attending to migrants, we are not boasting," the minister said.
The government estimates that about eight crore migrants will benefit from the move to provide free grains. Rs 3,500 crore will be spent on this intervention for two months, informed the finance minister. The cost for this will be fully borne by the Centre.
State governments will be responsible for implementation, identification of migrants, full distribution and coming up with the required guidelines.
Apart from this, a technology driven system will be used to enable migrants to access public distribution system from any fair price shop in India by March 2021, Sitharaman said.
Essentially, this is implementation of the ‘one nation one ration card’ scheme that was trialled by the Centre earlier. "This scheme will be enable migrant beneficiary to access PDS from any fair price shop in the country," said Sitharaman.
She said that by August, 67 crore beneficiaries in 23 states amounting to 83 per cent of PDS population will be included in the scheme. "All states will complete full fair price shop automation by March 2021," added Sitharaman.
The portable ration card scheme aims to address the gaps in the PDS delivery. Since ration cards are issued by state governments, this meant that beneficiaries could procure food grains only from the designated ration shops within the concerned state.
If a beneficiary were to shift to another state, he/she would need to apply for a new ration card in the second state. But the procedure had many complications.
The new scheme has been launched keeping in mind the internal migration of our country. The government had last year launched the pilot project for the inter-state portability of ration cards between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, and between Maharashtra and Gujarat.
This comes at a times when even those migrants who have ration cards but are stuck in the other states were not able to procure food grains from fair price shops because of being registered in their home state.