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The ambitious One-Nation-One-Ration Card (ONORC) scheme of the Union government has come under the scrutiny of a parliamentary panel, with Opposition members planning to raise concerns over gaps in its implementation and the efficiency of the public distribution system (PDS) network.

The scheme gained traction soon after a lockdown was imposed to contain the spread of covid-19 last year. In May 2020, the Centre raised the borrowing limit for states from 3% to 5% of gross state domestic product (GSDP) for FY21, subject to certain reforms initiatives by states, including the PDS reform.

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“Our primary concern is that the Centre must not rush through this scheme. This is a vast and ambitious project but that also means that there are too many gaps that need to be addressed. There are several states that have flagged inconsistencies in the distribution system, compatibility of Aadhaar authentication and effective machines for fingerprint reading," a person aware of developments said requesting anonymity.

The standing committee on food, consumer affairs and public distribution on Thursday is set to meet ministry officials to discuss possible ways to strengthen the PDS system and augment the use of technological means for implementing the flagship ration portability scheme.

“The problem is that the Union government has not been able to install and connect all fair-price shops through electronic point of sale (e-POS) machines. The government is asking people to register themselves with the fair prices shops but it is a time taking exercise," said another person, also seeking anonymity.

The ONORC scheme seeks to ensure that beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and other welfare schemes, especially migrant workers and their families, get ration from any fair price shop across the country that has a biometric verification system in place. The reforms stipulate Aadhaar seeding of ration cards, biometric authentication of beneficiaries, and automation of all fair price shops across the country.

“This issue is part of the larger discussion that the committee has undertaken, including analysing both the procurement and distribution systems. As far as portability is concerned, some states want state-specific PDS schemes to be covered under ONORC, while others said the ration cards were not up to date for digital transactions," a third person said, requesting not be named.

After nine states completed the ONORC-linked reforms, they were allowed to raise a total of 23,523 crore under the Centre’s conditional borrowing norms announced in May 2020, according to a finance ministry statement in December. The nine states were Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana, Tripura, and Uttar Pradesh.

In June 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said the scheme’s major beneficiaries will be migrants visiting other states for employment. In August, the standing committee on labour had also sought representations from officials of the food and public distribution department over social security and welfare concerns for inter-state migrants and unorganized and informal sector workers.

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