. As the Supreme Court’s deadline for all states to join the One Nation, One Ration Card (ONORC) initiative nears, this is an opportune time to examine how the scheme has fared in its first two years. ONORC allows a beneficiary to access his food entitlements from anywhere in India irrespective of the place where the ration card is registered. This full mobility of food subsidy under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 relies on digitisation of the public distribution system (PDS), a network of over 5,00,000 fair-price shops (FPS).
The Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IMPDS) portal records all purchases made under ONORC. We accessed this publicly available data set to better understand the patterns and trends in ration uptake between July 2019 and June 2021. However, IMPDS only includes transactions involving inter-state migrants.
There is no evidence to suggest that the poorest beneficiaries are being excluded from ONORC. Under the NFSA, there are two kinds of card holders: Priority households (PHH), and the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) families, which are entitled to more generous food subsidies. These “poorest of the poor” ration card holders made around 9 per cent of the purchases in our data — only slightly less than the 9.5 per cent ratio for AAY beneficiaries among all card holders in the country.
Since food security for jobless migrants was of concern during the peaks of the Covid-19 pandemic, we investigated whether ration uptake changed with external pandemic conditions. Our results indicate that higher daily Covid-19 caseloads are associated with a lower number of transactions in a state, even after accounting for the prevailing lockdown conditions. Collection of free wheat rations also declined when cases rose.
The ONORC can reduce leakages in PDS because it reassigns the responsibility to deliver migrant workers’ share of food grains from low capacity, labour-surplus states to those with greater migrant inflows and proven experience in implementing welfare schemes faithfully. For example, Bihar “lost” 2,71,311 kg of potential rations, while Kerala “gained” 47,882 kg of rice and wheat between 2019-21 as cards became portable. In 2011-12, PDS leakage was estimated at 69 per cent and 43 per cent, respectively, in Bihar and Kerala.