A nation, a ration card: will give migrant workers a cushion – editorials
The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday asked the Union government to examine the feasibility of implementing the “one nation ration card” (ONORC) scheme during the national shutdown. The plan, which allows beneficiaries to access the food grains to which they are entitled under the 2013 National Food Safety Law, from any fair-price store in the country, was announced last June.
The SC’s push to accelerate ONORC is critical. Millions of unemployed migrant workers are trapped in host cities due to the closure. Many have run out of money to buy food and do not have proof of identity such as ration cards to access subsidized food grains through the well-supplied public distribution system (PDS). States where they are trapped prefer to offer relief to their own residents first, citing a lack of identity documents to deny benefits. And among states that have opened community kitchens for unemployed migrant workers, there have been complaints about the quantity, quality, and type of food. Some consider that the ONORC scheme will not be of much help during the current crisis, as many migrant workers have left their PDS cards in their villages. Instead, the Union government must expand the well-supplied PDS system to cover everyone, regardless of whether they have a ration card or not, for at least six months.
While this must be done, the government should also accelerate the ONORC scheme because India’s current rights-based regime is based on the assumption that people are sedentary. This is not true given the high rates of interstate and intrastate migration. Without any safety net, migrants depend on their employers or labor contractors to obtain food or buy food on the open market. This increases their cost of living and reduces the additional earnings they can expect to remit to their families. During the closure, the crisis has become even more acute. But even after the coronavirus pandemic ends, this will come in handy. Migration will surely restart due to unemployment. When migrant workers re-board trains and buses to destination cities, they should have their PDS cards with them that are valid throughout India.