COVID-19: One nation, one ration card turns spotlight on 2017 govt report

The Union govt report had asked states to remove provisions that restricted migrants in accessing PDS benefits

By Shagun
Published: Friday 01 May 2020

The Supreme Court asked the Union government on April 30, 2020 to consider adopting a ‘one nation, one ration card’ scheme for migrants stuck in cities due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

This has brought the spotlight on a 2017 government report on migration that emphasised that short-term migrants usually lose access to PDS. It had asked the state governments to ‘proactively’ remove any such provisions which restrict migrants in accessing such benefits. 

The apex court’s direction came in the backdrop of multiple reports of migrants being unable to access subsidised food grains through the public distribution system (PDS) because of lack of identity proof or ration cards. 

According to the government report:

Despite constitutional protections, states have at times introduced local administrative requirements of a minimum duration of local residence (informally termed domicile) or specified conditions of employment, which can place migrants at a disadvantage in terms of employment or access to benefits in the destination states.

A key issue inhibiting the movement of labour is that migrants, who are registered to claim access to a number of legal and other entitlements at their source locations, lose access to these benefits upon migrating to a different location, the report said.

It stressed on the portability of benefits — both intra- state and inter-state — so that migrants were not adversely affected.

“The working group recommends that states pro-actively remove domicile provisions in laws relating to work in an accelerated manner,” the report of The Working Group of Migration by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation had added.

Had these recommendations been accepted and worked upon, many migrant labourers who have been left out of the PDS scheme or are getting erratic supply of food, could have benefitted.

This would have helped those who walked miles to reach their villages.

“This was a major lacuna, given the rights conferred under the National Food Security Act 2013,” the report said.

Access to food grains through public distribution systems under National Food Security Act is done and the identification of beneficiaries is carried out at state level. These lists are further tagged to local fair price shops.

It said the digitisation of beneficiary lists and/or their linkage with Aadhaar permits portability of PDS benefits across the fair price shop system or any other alternative benefits and should be done to make sure the migrants don’t lose their food entitlement. 

Giving an example of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, the states that signed a Memorandum of Understanding for portability of PDS benefits for inter-state migrants, the report recommended the establishment of inter-state arrangements for provision of PDS to such migrants.

It said:

While the right to freedom of movement is constitutionally protected, the same is not true of access to entitlements including entitlements under the National Food Security Act, 2013, through PDS; voting rights in local, state and national elections; caste certificates and other markers of vulnerability; or even access to government schemes such as the National Rural Health Mission. 

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