1. Migrant workers to get free foodgrains

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

Free foodgrains to migrant workers

A major focus of the second tranche of the economic stimulus package announced by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was to provide free foodgrains for the next two months to migrant workers who do not have ration cards. The Centre will spend ₹3,500 crore for this purpose.

Ms. Sitharaman said there are an estimated 8 crore migrant workers who have been housed in government and privately-run relief camps across the country since the lockdown.

The move to provide free foodgrain for migrant workers is an extension of the Pradhan Mantri Gharib Kalyan Yojana, which provided an additional monthly free rice or wheat allocation of 5 kg per person, and 1 kg of pulse per household from April to June to the 80 crore people with ration cards covered by the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Over the past month, migrant workers and others without ration cards have struggled without access to this free food.

Extension of Credit facilities

Apart from measures for migrant workers, the second tranche announced by the government included an extension of credit facilities for urban housing, street vendors and farmers and an interest subvention scheme for small businesses.

One Nation, One Ration Card Scheme

The Finance Minister added that by August 2020, the ration card portability scheme will allow 67 crore NFSA beneficiaries in 23 connected states to use their cards at any ration shop anywhere in the country, allowing migrant workers to access subsidised food away from their home villages. The scheme would cover all beneficiaries by March 2021, she said.

In fact, the One Nation One Ration Card scheme was originally supposed to cover all States by June 2020.

MGNREGA work

For returning migrants who have no means of livelihood back in their home villages, Ms. Sitharaman said State governments had been directed to enrol them under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. She said that 14.6 crore person days of work have been generated under the scheme till May 13, claiming that this was 40-50% higher than work generated in May 2019.

However, MGNREGA data shows that less than 14 crore person days of work have been provided in both April and May 2020 together, while 64 crore person days of work were provided in April and May 2019. A senior Rural Development official clarified that

Ms.Sitharaman meant to refer to e-muster roll data, showing that 50% more person days of work were offered this May.

Source: The Hindu

2. Freeing prisoners in emergency

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

On Tuesday, following an outbreak of novel coronavirus infections in Mumbai Central Jail, better known as Arthur Road jail, the Maharashtra government issued a circular that effectively facilitates the release of half the prisoners lodged in the state’s jails, on temporary bail and emergency parole. Until Thursday, around 7,000 of a targeted 17,000-plus prisoners had been released.

What led to the move?

Over the last several days, 184 persons (158 inmates and 26 staff) were found infected in Arthur Road Jail, besides a 54-year old woman inmate at Byculla Jail. While Tuesday’s circular came after this, the government’s moves to release prisoners had, in fact, preceded the outbreak.

In March, the Supreme Court had directed decongesting of prisons and observed that the “bitter truth is that our prisons are overcrowded, making it difficult for the prisoners to maintain social distancing”.

How many prisoners will be released, and how many have been so far?

According to a report by the Prisons Department submitted on Monday, 5,105 prisoners had already been released as a result of the decisions on March 25 and May 8, another 3,017 were in the process of being released, and a further 9,520 would be released as a result of Tuesday’s order. The total of 17,642 represents nearly half the 35,239 prisoners lodged in the state’s 60 jails before the lockdown.

Tuesday’s order was for the release of all undertrials, relaxing the earlier category of those facing up to seven years imprisonment, but with exceptions including those charged with murder, rape, kidnapping, bank frauds, major financial scams, money-laundering, anti-terror laws, child sexual abuse as well as all foreign nationals. It also said inmates who reside outside the state can be released only after the lockdown period is over and public transportation is available.

The release is temporary. Initially, both bail and parole is valid only for 45 days, or till the application of Epidemic Diseases Act from the state is revoked, whichever is earlier. The 45-day period would later be extended in blocks of 30 days each. But eventually, the prisoners are supposed to be back in the barracks.

Why is the release taking time?

While the decision has been taken by the government and the prisoners have been identified, the process of obtaining bail or parole has to be followed as earlier. The bail order has to be issued by a relevant court, while parole has to be sanctioned by authorised jail officer.

The process of release faced another hurdle. It was begun at a time when lockdown restrictions were the most severe. Prisoners released had no means to reach various destinations, and a few non-profit organisations came forward to help in some districts like Latur. Some prisoners were found loitering on the streets.

In Pune, a released prisoner was murdered by a group of people; old enmity is suspected. In Mumbai, a released woman inmate could not reach her home in Palghar, and was given shelter by a woman jailer for a night before another inmate, newly released, offered to take her home with her.

How crowded are Maharashtra’s jails?

Before the lockdown, the state’s jails were accommodating 50% over their capacity. This is much higher than the national average occupancy in central prisons, which on an average house 13 prisoners against a capacity of 10.

Have there been coronavirus infections in prisons in other states?

States including Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have recorded Covid-19 cases in their prisons. Following the Supreme Court order, most states have constituted a high-powered committee and come up with their respective categories of prisoners eligible for release.

Source: The Indian Express

3. What is the ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ system announced by the Finance Minister?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the national rollout of a ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ system in all states and Union Territories by March 2021. As of now, about 20 states have come on board to implement the inter-state ration card portability.

According to the Finance Minister, this system will enable migrant workers and their family members to access PDS benefits from any Fair Price Shop in the country.

What is the one ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ system?

Under the National Food Security Act, 2013, about 81 crore persons are entitled to buy subsidized foodgrain — rice at Rs 3/kg, wheat at Rs 2/kg, and coarse grains at Re 1/kg — from their designated Fair Price Shops (FPS) of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).

Currently, about 23 crore ration cards have been issued to nearly 80 crore beneficiaries of NFSA in all states and UTs.

In the present system, a ration cardholder can buy foodgrains only from an FPS that has been assigned to her in the locality in which she lives. However, this will change once the ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ system becomes operational nationally. This is how it will work:

Suppose a beneficiary lives in the district of Basti in Uttar Pradesh and migrates to Mumbai for work. Currently, she is no longer able to purchase subsidised foodgrains from a PDS shop in her new locality in Mumbai. However, under the ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ system, the beneficiary will be able to buy subsidised foodgrains from any FPS across the country.

The new system, based on a technological solution, will identify a beneficiary through biometric authentication on electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) devices installed at the FPSs, and enable that person to purchase the quantity of foodgrains to which she is entitled under the NFSA.

How will the system of ration card portability work?

Ration card portability is aimed at providing intra-state as well as inter-state portability of ration cards.

While the Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) portal (http://www.impds.nic.in/) provides the technological platform for the inter-state portability of ration cards, enabling a migrant worker to buy foodgrains from any FPS across the country, the other portal (annavitran.nic.in) hosts the data of distribution of foodgrains through E-PoS devices within a state.

The Annavitran portal enables a migrant worker or his family to avail the benefits of PDS outside their district but within their state. While a person can buy her share of foodgrains as per her entitlement under the NFSA, wherever she is based, the rest of her family members can purchase subsidised foodgrains from their ration dealer back home.

Since when has the One Nation, One Ration Card System been in the works?

Work on this ambitious project started about two years back when the government launched a scheme called Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) in April 2018 to reform the public distribution system in the country.

The PDS system was marred with inefficiency leading to leakages in the system. To plug the leakages and make the system better, the government started the reform process.

For, this purpose it used a technological solution involving the use of Aadhaar to identify beneficiaries. Under the scheme, the seeding of ration cards with Aadhaar is being done.

Simultaneously, PoS machines are being installed at all FPSs across the country. Once 100 per cent of Aadhaar seeding and 100 per cent installation of PoS devices is achieved, the national portability of ration cards will become a reality.

It will enable migrant workers to buy foodgrains from any FPS by using their existing/same ration card.

How many states have come on board to roll out inter-state portability of ration cards?

It was initially proposed to nationally rollout the ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ scheme by June 1, 2020.

So far, 17 states and UTs — Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu — have come on board to roll out the inter-state portability of ration cards under the NFSA.

Three more states — Odisha, Mizoram, and Nagaland — are expected to come on board by June 1, taking the number of States and UTs to 20 under the One Nation, Once Ration Card System.

How has been the experience of Ration Card Portability so far?

The facility of inter-state ration card portability is available in 20 states as of now but the number of transactions done through using this facility has been low so far.

According to data available on the IMPDS portal, only 275 transactions have been done until May 14. However, the number of transactions in intra-state ration card portability is quite high.

The data available on the Annavitaran portal shows that about one crore transactions took place using the facility last month. It means that usages of intra-state ration card portability are way higher than the inter-state portability.

Source: The Indian Express

Q. What is ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ Scheme? Why it is a necessity for meaningful implementation of PDS system in our country? (GS Mains Paper II, 250 words, 15 marks)

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