The One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme is said to be centre’s pioneering initiative towards implementating nation-wide portability of ration cards. It thus enables migrant beneficiaries to obtain share of the eligible food grains from their nearest Fair Price Shop (FPS) using the home state ration card.
The ONORC scheme envisages food security of persons who move from one place/state to another for work through enabling ration card portability wherein household with a ration card can split their eligible ration among members at the native place as well as those at the destination anywhere in India.
A copy of ration card or Aadhaar card is required. Along with the biometric authentication of the individual for availing the benefits. As of September 2022, portability is said to be enabled in 35 States/UT’s according to government press release and functioning in 30 according the central website of Department of Food & Public Distribution.
The State of Kerala is touted to lead the country in public service delivery mechanisms and infrastructure. However the implementation of ONORC even here is bleak. In the past three months, attempts were made to ascertain the field experiences of migrants in Ernakulam district in availing PDS facilities.
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What does the data say?
In Kerala since July 2022, 5588 transactions have occurred by 5538 cards across the districts. The figures though differ from the transaction numbers as per the Ministry of Consumer Affairs’ central database. Since July 2022, 286 transactions have occurred in total in Ernakulam, with majority transactions by migrants from two states alone- Bihar and Tamil Nadu.
It is important to note that as compared to people actually availing benefits, failed transactions are manifold. For instance, in the month of October 2022, there were 1044 successful transactions. But 4203 transactions have failed according to Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department’s PDS website!
What is even more bizarre is absolute lack of clarity about the scheme, the eligible states, the procedure by the Supply office officials and shop-owners. In one taluk, the officials said transactions from Assam have not yet started. While West Bengal and Odisha is operational only on paper. These three states form the majority of migrants in the district.
The State website shows transactions from Assam in Trivandrum, Malappuram and Palakkad and for West Bengal in Idukki, Kannur, Kasaragod, etc., as of September 2022 and also from Odisha in Ernakulam. How do the states have successful transactions in some districts of Kerala but are not operational in another?
Visiting FPS around Ernakulam
The first visits were to the shops in the middle of significant migrant accommodation, around plywood companies in Perumbavoor. All transactions till December 2022, showed technical error with the device unable to print/read other state ration number. One shop-owner in fact said how he tried to give any extra ration he had to women from Assam who used to frequently come to the shop. But a lot of times, he could not. There were even instances where he was unable to ‘deal’ with their demands and had to forcefully remove them from his shop.
In a Tamil migrant area, on the other end of the district, the shop-owner claims that two workers from Bihar and Odisha could successfully get ration earlier this year. But in all consequent months, the same individuals with the same ration card showed errors. They are unable to avail the benefits now. The owner was also not aware that the transaction can also checked with the Aadhaar number too.
When a transaction of a ration card holder from Uttar Pradesh was tried, the device stated ‘IMPDS transaction ongoing’. It then showed system error during multiple attempts in September, October and November. Similar situations were observed in multiple shops in the city where there was no knowledge about ONORC. The fact that it can be checked through Aadhaar number was also unknown.
The everyday realities on ground
Through the government’s website and a little digging one can find out the shop location that have had successful transactions in the district. To get a complete picture, it was essential to also find out how migrants could avail benefits here.
Palachuvadu (1734042) and Karimakaddu (1734215) in Kanayanoor Assistant Food Supply Office (AFSO) are two of the few FPS with successful transactions in the district. In Palachuvadu, the shop owner mentioned that the device shows error using ration number. But it worked when authenticated through Aadhaar. However at both places this was primarily tried for cards from Bihar only. The process though was no different so how did they succeed? No idea.
In this entire exercise spanning months, unfortunately I didn’t see a single successful transaction myself. With a sudden dip in construction work at the end of year, migrant workers were hoping to get some support in the form ration, but all was in vain.
Sohirul’s* father was one such person. After his wife ran away with someone, leaving 13-year old Sohirul with him. The first few months he did not get work. It was a period of great struggle for the family of two. Unable to get ration, they received little help from neighbours and school. They continued living in Bengali market area near Perumbavoor (Ernakulam).
The divided ration quantity may not be enough for migrants here but the difference such essentials can make to already vulnerable communities cannot be dismissed. With the Right to Work in any part of the country being a Fundamental Right and Right to Food an important constituent of the Fundamental Right to Life- there cannot be greater legal sanctions for ensuring the same.
What can be done?
At the very minimum, the immediate need is to not only resolve the technical errors at the earliest but also provide for updated information about ONORC’s operationality in the district. Further, there is an urgent requirement for training or any formal awareness to the FPS owners. They lack clarity regarding the procedure and ambiguity about eligible home state for portability (or just about the policy).
It is however interesting that the entire premise of this discussion rests on failure of Aadhaar-linked ration cards but the Supreme Court and UIDAI have repeatedly proclaimed that citizens cannot be denied essential services if they did not have Aadhaar. From PDS to schools though, the State seems to be deliberately ignoring the same. With or without government’s ‘national’ biometric card the story is that people are unable to access basic essentials.
I hope to have served you with some food for thought for dinner tonight. Is your nearest FPS doing ONORC transactions?
*Name changed to protect identity