In his sixth speech to the nation since the start of the coronavirus shutdown in March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Tuesday that India would move towards a “one nation, one ration card” system to help the poor across the country. The announcement comes at a time when the NDA-run Center was faced with the flak for its alleged mismanagement of the guest worker exodus triggered by the lockout.
“In the days to come, for all of India, there will be only one ration card, which will benefit the working poor living in other states,” said the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister also announced that the provision of free food grains to the poor, a program called PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) which started three months ago, will continue until the end of November. This will entail an additional expense of Rs 90,000 crore to provide free grain to around 80 crore people, in addition to the Rs 60,000 crore already spent.
“Until November 2020, we will continue to provide five kilos of free rice or wheat and one kilo of chana (lentil) free to feed 80 poor crores under Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY),” said the Prime Minister. added that Rs 31,000 crore have been deposited into the bank accounts of 20 crore people in the past three months.
The one nation, one ration card system will allow guest workers and their families access PDS benefits at any Fair Trade (FPS) store in the country. In the current system, a ration card holder can only access the PDS from the FPS in their locality. Under the new system, he or she can also buy subsidized grain from an SPF in another state. This will be made possible through biometric authentication on electronic point of sale devices (ePoS).
By January 2020, at least 12 states had joined the “one nation, one ration card” initiative; eight others joined on June 1. While announcing his second trench in the Aatmanirbhar package, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that 67 million people will be covered by the policy by August of this year. The government aims to do this across India by March of next year.
Today’s speech to the nation was an attempt by the Prime Minister to speed up his next project to bring the whole country together under one social roof on which the central government would have a greater say, unlike the current system where the payment of social assistance is largely left to the States. The great distress felt by the workers invited immediately after the corona lock is used to justify the introduction of this decision at this time. A single ration card system would reduce the chances of large-scale migration during a crisis such as foreclosure.
But there will be problems, however. Biometric authentication will obviously involve Aadhar, who has been under the scanner for issues such as privacy and fake cards. An IndiaSpend report noted 164 Aadhar-related frauds – including forged identity documents – between 2011 and 2018.
An IIM professor also pointed out that biometric ePoS can cause community transmission of the coronavirus. “The Center must immediately stop Aadhaar-based biometric authentication (ABBA) because of the risk of transmission,” wrote Professor Ritika Khera in an article published on a website. She argued that ABBA would increase transaction costs and exclude the needy.
Then there is the logistics of standardizing the availability of grain in all states, taking into account the ups and downs and the need to secure these supply lines and make them all season.
Another gap is technical: a 2019 directive stated that only half of the subsidized grain could be purchased at the same time. If a large migrant family is divided into different areas, then things can get difficult. Poor connectivity and ePoS coverage in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh – major migration basins – would hinder the lofty intentions of a portable ration card.
The question also calls into question the issue of federalism. PDS is a simultaneous subject; the Center is mainly associated with the maintenance of the Food Corporation of India warehouses, while the States are solely responsible for the identification of eligible families, ration cards and supervision of the FPS. Under the new system, states receiving migrants – such as Gujarat or Maharashtra – will face an additional burden of feeding them. In addition, data on inter-state migration is poor in India. The Center could become an arbiter, making the Union government more powerful.
The Centre’s repeated failure to release state GST contributions on time and the financial burden of foreclosure do not help. In accordance with GST law, states will be compensated for lost revenue until 2022. However, poor tax revenues have only accumulated premiums while states turn to the Center for relief. . Research from 2019 suggested that states will face an income gap of 1.2 lakh Rs after the five-year period.
With state governments locked in and the GST numbers likely to suffer, state budget weakening is likely to continue. In this context, the Prime Minister, speaking of the increase in spending under the PMGKAY, only stressed the tightening of the Centre’s grip on welfarism.
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