No proposal at present to revisit coverage of people under NFSA: Food Secy

Economy


Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey on Friday said the government has no proposal at present to revisit the coverage of people benefiting from the National Food Security Act (NFSA) saying it cannot be done “arbitrarily”. Currently, NFSA provides coverage for about 81 crore people, comprising 67 per cent of the country’s total population. Under the Act, the government supplies highly subsidised foodgrains at Rs 1-3 per kg to the beneficiaries.

However, the 2015 Shanta Kumar Report on FCI Restructuring and later the Economic Survey 2019-20 had suggested to revisit the coverage of people benefiting from NFSA. Asked if the government is considering revisiting the coverage of NFSA beneficiaries this year, the secretary said, “When all tools are available with the government, then there is a possibility of revisiting this. Right now, there is no proposal.”

This exercise cannot be done “arbitrarily” because at present even census data is not available with the government, he told reporters after the launch of mobile App ‘Mera Ration’. Pandey said the number of beneficiaries, which was fixed in 2011, was based on some criteria. It had covered 67 per cent of the population, comprising 75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban people.

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Whenever there would be any revision in coverage of people, there will first be an exercise and data analysis, he said noting, “It (NFSA) is a law passed by Parliament. The government and Parliament at that time will have to take a call.”

On the progress made in the implementation of ration card portability service ‘One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) to NFSA beneficiaries, the secretary said about 32 states and Union Territories have implemented this service so far. Assam, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and West Bengal are expected to be integrated in the next few months.

“Electronic point of sale (ePoS) machines are procured in Delhi and West Bengal and hopefully, they will start soon. In Chhattisgarh, ePoS machines are yet to be procured, while in Assam, Aadhaar seeding of ration card is still low,” he said.

Under ration card portability service, beneficiaries particularly migrant beneficiaries can claim either full or part of foodgrains entitlement from any fair price shops or ration shops in the country through existing ration card in a seamless manner. Their family members back home, if any, can also claim the balance foodgrains on same ration card.

According to the food ministry, monthly average of about 1.5-1.6 crore transactions was recorded under the ONORC since August 2019. About 69 crore beneficiaries are covered under this new facility in the country now. During the COVID-19 period between April 2020 and February 2021, about 15.4 crore portability transactions were carried out under the ONORC which includes both inter-state and intra-state portability of ration cards.

Asked how many of the total 81 crore NFSA beneficiaries would use the portability service, the secretary said, “At any given stage, more than 7-8 per cent of beneficiaries will use the portability. Going by that assessment, we have touched 1.6-1.7 crore transactions in certain months, which is a high number.”

S Jagannathan, joint secretary in the food ministry, said that during the COVID-19 lockdown period, it was difficult to assess the number of migrants in the country. Initially, the rough estimate of 8 crore migrants was taken for distribution of free ration but after talking to states, that figure was 2.8 crore.

Therefore, ONORC and mobile app ‘Mera Ration’ are harbinger of trying to assess who is going where. “The mobile app will capture details of migrants. But, this will take few years. The new data will help the country socio-economically for us to make new policies,” he added.

Jagannathan also said adequate foodgrains are made available at fair price shops to meet the demand of beneficiaries availing through portability service. The country has surplus foodgrains and no problem is faced in implementing the ration card portability service, he added.



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