One Nation, One Ration Card : Nation-wide Portability of Ration Card - Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations

One Nation, One Ration Card : Nation-wide Portability of Ration Card - Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations

Why in News?

In a bid to implement 'One Nation, One Ration Card' (ONORC) the Ministry for Food and Public Distribution has commenced pilots between Maharashtra - Gujarat and Andhra - Telangana and has committed to a national olrlout yb unJe 03, 0220.


In India, food security system mainly focuses on supply of food grains and this is distributed through the Public Distribution System (PDS). The objectives of PDS are maintaining price stability of essential commodities, providing access to foods at affordable prices to the vulnerable people and to maintain minimum nutrition level to population. In the context of widespread poverty ratio, malnutrition and inflation in food prices, access to basic food at reasonable prices remains an important policy intervention. India’s PDS now has a significant impact on rural poverty. On Independence Day this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for national integration through several “one nation” initiatives such as a singular mobility card, tax regime and electricity grid. One such initiative, One Nation, One Ration Card (ONORC), is meant to enable a resident from, to access her food rations in Patna or Mumbai.

The Economic Survey 2017 estimated that over nine million Indians change their state every year. For them, the ONORC is a gamechanger because it makes their rations “portable”, allowing them to pick up foodgrains from any ration shop in the country. It also benefits non-migrants by allowing them to transact at better-performing shops locally. This local “choice effect” is extremely popular in Andhra Pradesh, which has introduced such portability within the state since October 2015. A study by researchers at the Indian School of Business (ISB) found that over 25 per cent of PDS beneficiaries in the state now use portability. However, we must approach this bold vision with utmost caution because PDS is a crucial lifeline for many of the 800 million Indians it reaches.

One Nation, One Ration Card

The ONORC entails integration of the existing PDS systems or portals of states and UTs with those of the Centre under a central repository of all National Food Security Act (NFSA) ration cards and beneficiaries. The central repository also ensures that no duplicate ration cards and beneficiaries exist in any state or UTs. The ONORC scheme is implemented across the nation and for that data of all ration cards will be connected to one server and any beneficiary, anywhere in the country, will be able to pick up their grain from any public distribution system of their choice after 30th June, 2020. Currently, in four states — Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, and Maharashtra—both intra-state and inter-state portability of ration card is being implemented. Seven other states—Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and Tripura—are, at present, testing intra-state portability that would allow beneficiaries to lift their quota of ration from any fair price shop (FPS) store within that state.

  • According to food ministry officials, the key focus of the scheme is ensuring that beneficiaries covered under NFSA are not denied their rations because of inter-state migration.
  • Currently, a large chunk of the labour force mostly covered under NFSA travels from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, etc, to more economically advanced states, such as Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, in search of livelihood. This migration pattern is seasonal, especially at the beginning of the sowing of rabi and kharif crops, and during their harvesting.
  • By January 2020, 11 states will form a public distribution grid. The central scheme will integrate all state public distribution systems to a central repository of beneficiaries’ details.
  • Ration cards are usually issued by states, under the NFSA. Beneficiaries now have access to ration shop in issuing states alone.
  • Women shifting to different states post-marriage and migrant workers are affected by this. Some 4.1 crore workers migrate out of their states seasonally for work (2011 census).

Issues and Challenges in ONORC

There are several issues related to the two elements of access that ONORC can potentially resolve:

  • The first relates to the amenability of ONORC for migrants. Identification of beneficiaries is transaction-cost heavy and is fraught with several inclusion and exclusion errors. If a household moves, to become eligible, the costs must be incurred all over again.
  • Conditional on eligibility, the experience with PDS depends considerably on the last node of delivery — FPS. Across the three researched states — Bihar, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh — beneficiaries complained about discrimination by the dealers, especially against women and in terms of providing quality services.
  • For rolling out the ONORC move pan-India, all PDS shops should install electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) machines and all ration cards have to be seeded with Aadhaar numbers. Currently, around 77% of FPSs—4.12 lakh of the 5.34 lakh operating across the country—have installed ePoS machines. Two key states—West Bengal and Bihar—that witness huge labour emigration, have been laggards in this regard.
  • ONORC will be particularly beneficial for women and other disadvantaged groups, given how social identity (caste, class and gender) and other contextual factors (including power relations) provide a strong backdrop in accessing PDS.
  • Further, the quality of services is markedly inferior for the subaltern groups with latent methods of discrimination such as lack of information, mixing of inferior grains, longer waiting time and, at times, even verbal abuse.

Further, there is widespread denial of entitlement, with households not getting the quantity or paying the price that they are entitled to. The State of Aadhaar Survey 2017-18 found that nearly 6.5 per cent of PDS beneficiaries in Rajasthan were denied ration because the shopowner claimed to be out of food grain. This translates to over 3.5 million people in Rajasthan alone.

One Nation, One Ration Card : Nation-wide Portability of Ration Card

Restructuring the PDS

While we acknowledge that access to food through state transfers will require shifts in power relations and changes in the structural features that would involve challenging, renegotiating and transforming unequal social relationships, initiating institutional reforms of ONORC might bridge some of the gaps.

Further, to see the benefits of ONORC, it is important to understand the functioning of the PDS across the value chain. Two processes central to the PDS are: identification of beneficiaries; and due allocation as per the attributes (price, quantity), besides meeting the requirement of the quality and variety of grains. Some other important issue, which need to resolve while thinking about the ONORC ni itiative aer:

  • First, fundamental processes related to the PDS need to be redesigned to empower every individual. A beneficiary has no mechanism to question whether the shop owner is telling the truth or diverting rations. Portability and biometrics will not solve this problem completely. The state government collects feedback in real time through a mobile-based system. The central government should use this opportunity to make PDS omre user-centric.
  • Second, the operational backbone of the PDS needs to be restructured to promote portability. States should be brought together on a national platform that is based on the same technical standards and can therefore “speak” to each other (what technologists call “interoperability”), so that portability works seamlessly across states. The system should be based on what technologists call “open APIs” so that states can customise the user interface to their local needs, and add features and additional entitlements as they deem fit. The system should enable real time tracking of inventories and rapid response to low stock situations.
  • Thirdly, while leveraging the power of AADHAR for PDS, the government should actively address privacy and exclusion risks that the use of AADHAAR and a centralised PDS platform can lead to. The government should also acknowledge that authentication failures will happen in any biometric system. To prevent denial of service, the government should ensure availability of nonbiometric means of authentication (such as OTP or PIN), as well as manual overrides.

Government Initiatives in Reforming PDS

PDS reforms specially following passage of NFSA, 2013. Cutting pilferage from the PDS is becoming far easier with almost all of the 23 crore ration cards in the country being digitised and 56% of these already seeded with unique identification number AADHAAR. Besides, several states have now installed ePOS devices at their fair price shops to track the sale of foodgrains to actual cardholders on a real-time basis.

  • End-to-end Computerisation of PDS Operations Scheme: The Department of Food and Public Distribution, in association with all states and UTs, is implementing the scheme. The expected outcome of their activities are:
  • Digitisation of beneficiary database: Enable correct identification of beneficiaries, remove bogus cards and better targeting of food subsidies.
  • Online allocation of foodgrains: System generated allocation of foodgrains to bring transparency.
  • Computerisation of supply chain management: This will ensure timely availability of foodgrains to intended beneficiaries at FPS and also keep check on leakages.
  • Grievance redressal mechanism and transparency portals: Increase transparency and public accountability in the implementation of targeted public distribution system (TPDS) through transparency portals, online grievance registration and otll-free helpline numbers.
  • Assistance to State Governments: According to the NFSA, the central government is required to provide assistance to state governments to meet the expenditure incurred by it on intra-state movement, handling of foodgrains and margins paid to fair price shop dealers, for distribution of foodgrains allocated for the entitled persons and households. The central provides 50:50 cost sharing in respect of general category states and 75% for North-Eastern or hilly or island states.
  • One-time Assistance to State Food Commissions: The NFSA also states that the state governments will have to set up a state food commission for monitoring and review of the implementation of the Act. If the states decide to set up food commission exclusive basis, then the central government will provide onetime financial assistance for nonbuilding assets under the Scheme on “Strengthening of PDS & Capacity Building, Quality Control, Consultancies & Research”. However, no assistance will be given for any construction activity or any recurring expenses.
  • Awareness Scheme: The main objective to this is to set up an effective, sustained and intensive awareness campaign, whose impact can reach the urban as well as rural and remote areas.


ONORC shall be helpful for the large migratory population of the country, who migrate from one part of the country to another in search of job or employment, marriage, or any other reason, and find difficulty in accessing subsidised foodgrains in the present system. The central government adopt a patient path of “a hundred small steps” while implementing this vision. It should start by encouraging all states to roll out within-state portability. Use of technologies like installation of ePoS machines at FPSs and computerisation of supply chain management of FCI operations would help in increasing the overall efficiency of the entire process, while maintaining transparency and curbing corruption. In the meantime, it should work on a national technical platform that works for all states. Such a gradual rollout will prevent transition glitches that show up as harmless statistics in reports, but are a matter of life and death for millions in our country.

General Studies Paper- II

  • Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Topic: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

General Studies Paper- III

  • Topic: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System-objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing.

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