The ONORC Scheme and 371 (F) Status of Sikkim: Challenges and Concerns
On July 28 Chief Minister of Sikkim Prem Singh Tamang launched the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC), a flagship scheme of the Government of India in the presence of Minister of Food and Civil Supplies and UD and HD Department, Advisor (Food and Civil Supplies Department), Chairman (Sikkim Food Commission), Chief Secretary (Government of Sikkim) and various Secretaries at Saman Bhawan, Gangtok on July 28, 2021. The program was also joined by D C Mishra, the Deputy Director General (NIC, Government of India), Pankaj Mishra, Consultant (CPMU), Guru Prasad, Senior Technical Director and Annapurna, Scientist (NIC, Hyderabad) virtually. The NIC team of Sikkim also joined the program virtually.
The migrant workers who live in Sikkim are expected to benefit out of this program. However, the introduction and subsequent implementation of this scheme that would benefit migratory workers and labours in specific brought about a mixed reaction from the people of the State. Many civil society activists from Sikkim raised their concerns regarding the implementation of the ONORC Scheme.
Speaking with Sikkim Chronicle Arun Upreti, Minister to Department of UD and HD, Government of Sikkim mentioned that the ONORC scheme will decrease the rise in influx of the state "earlier the migrant workers had to register voters card and Addhar card so that they could fulfil basic everyday needs, but now the ONORC scheme will provide all the basic ration needs at a subsidised rate to them” Minister Uprtei
Tseten Tashi Bhutia, Ex-MLA and Convener of Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC) and Sikkim Progressive Youth fourum (SPYF) were the first ones to react.
Tseten Tashi Bhutia, Ex-MLA and Convener of Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC) immediately reacted to this on his social media handle by posting the following, “Seems our Sikkim Govt in more worried about migrant workers than protection of Sikkimese from fake documents like; fake COI, fake voter card, fake Trade licence, fake RC holders, etc. Our appeal for implementation of ILP to stop influx in national security interest also seems to have gone in vain.”
Similarly, Sikkim Progressive Youth fourum (SPYF) released a statement in which it clamied that the Chief Minister of Sikkim PS Golay, immediately after returning from a NE level meeting with the HM Amit Shah, launched a very controversial scheme of the central Govt- One Nation One Ration Card (ONOR). Even some BJP ruled states like Assam have not implemented this scheme in their states. "The scheme is not in the interest of bona fide Sikkimese. No Sikkimese would have wanted this scheme to be implemented in Sikkim. The scheme has been implemented, surely to please the alliance partner and the master of SKM party in Delhi."
"Probably, the fear of losing power haunts him as it has been felt that ever since the SDF MLAs shifting their allegiance to the BJP, the ruling SKM often finds itself on the backfoot. It is an open secret that Golay could become the CM only in the mercy of the ruling BJP as he had spent a year in jail after he was convicted in a corruption charge. Ever since then, the ruling SKM has been compromising on the unique identity of Sikkim one after another. First, it gave two crucial BL seats to the BJP in the bye-elections. He has been giving blind support to everything and anything the central BJP does. ONORC is one of them." SPYF
"Without going into the merit of the scheme ONORC on pan-India basis, one thing is for certain, the ONORC has no benefit to the bonafide Sikkimese. It is very unlikely for the Sikkimese BPL to work as migrant labour outside Sikkim, so the basic advantage the ONORC offers has no benefit to the beneficiaries of ONORC of Sikkim. However, what the implementation of the scheme in Sikkim will do is it paves the way for the migrant workers working in Sikkim to start settling along with their families in the long run. The workers of other state who come alone here for works may start to bring their family along as the subsidised ration will be easily available to them. As the overall condition of Sikkim is better than compared to densely populated areas of other states where the workers belong, Sikkim will become an attractive place for them to migrate and settle. Soon we may find the people from outside residing as tenants in villages as agricultural labourers or constructional labourers in villages." added the statement
Meanwhile, Minister Upreti informed that the ONORC scheme will not hamper the Article 371f of Sikkim, he said "SKM government has always worked for the people of Sikkim and on behalf of the government i assure the people of Sikkim that this ONORC scheme will not hamper Article 371f of Sikkim”
The ONORC scheme of the Government of India is an attempt to bring about a reform in the Public Distribution System (PDS).
According to the scheme, individuals with possession of a ration card will now be able to be a part of the PDS anywhere in India. In simple terms, ration cardholders can avail provisions in any part of the country as long as they meet the eligibility criteria. With Aadhaar Biometric authentication, migrant labourers can access free ration anywhere. And the balance quota of provisions can be drawn by the family members staying back home in their respective towns and villages.
The migrant labour crisis had hit India in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of workers and labours were stranded as left to themselves, as multiple lockdowns had been imposed to curb the spreading of the coronavirus. With the ONORC scheme, many of these workers will be able to sustain themselves in the places where they had migrated seeking occupation and livelihood. The need for migrant labours arises out of the disparity in development.
The decline in agricultural production and the growing cities that demands workers more than what they have causes the migration from rural to urban India. And this is further accelerated by the rapid rate of growing cities that need more and more workers and labours, who migrate from the villages. And in times of crises, this category of the society is one of the most affected as they lay neither here, nor there.
While the ONORC scheme has been launched, the success of its implementation and the practicality of this system will only be known with time. Though the government has taken steps to introduce and improve the distribution through EPOS devices for the automation of Fair Price shops, there are many challenges that this new system has to face. But the need of the hour is to address the concerns of the migration workers and labours and this step, on effective implementation, shall provide an immediate relief to many stranded and displaced workers.
By Vaidyanath Nishant. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at email@example.com