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Migrant crisis could’ve been averted if Modi’s One Nation One Ration Card scheme was ready




Labourers walking on Agra-Lucknow highway | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Labourers walking on Agra-Lucknow highway | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint

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New Delhi: Hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers who left for their villages on foot with hardly any money or food after an unprecedented nationwide lockdown on 24 March could have been saved some of their misery had the Modi government expedited the implementation of the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme announced last June.

The government did step in after it faced widespread criticism, and provided food, temporary shelter and medical aid to the lakhs of workers who were in transit, to prevent infection because of overcrowding in bus terminals and on state and national highways.

But, according to food security experts, the chaos could have been somewhat avoided if the ONORC scheme was functional across the country and labourers had this card. The facility allows a beneficiary to access food grains that they are entitled to under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, from any fair-price shop in the country. The NFSA covers 80 crore people.

Currently, the scheme is operational in only 12 states and the Department of Food and Public Distribution intends to cover all states and union territories by June 2020.

Ravi Kant, Secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution, tells ThePrint that the project is on track. “We have set a June 2020 deadline to cover all states and union territories under ONORC. We are going ahead as per schedule.”

Also read: Magic shows, PT, counselling — this Delhi shelter is taking special care of migrant workers

The technology of ensuring everyone has enough to eat

It was to ensure that the poor do not go hungry irrespective of where they are that the department had launched the scheme, which offered nationwide portability of ration cards, on a pilot basis last August in clusters of two states.

An official in the Department of Food and Public Distribution said that ONORC involves bringing the data of all ration card holders on one server and integrating the existing public distribution system (PDS) information from states and union territories with the central system. This, the official added,  will allow beneficiaries to lift their food grains from any fair-price shop  where they live, using the same ration card.

 However, this would only be possible once the card holder provided biometrics for Aadhar authentication on ePoS (electronic point of sale) devices at fair price shops.

Asked if states are facing issues with portability in the 12 states because of poor internet connectivity in the interior areas, Ravi Kant said there were some teething problems initially, but now these issues have been sorted.  “It is running smoothly in the 12 states since January 2020,” he added.

Also read: Modi’s lockdown has worked, but now India needs Sanjivani Booti, not Hanuman’s mountain

For the migrants

According to the 2011 Census, 1.4 crore people in the country had migrated, both within and outside the states, for work.

Addressing a press conference last year, food minister Ram Vilas Paswan had said that the scheme was conceptualized specifically to cover migrant labourers and daily wagers.

Government sources told ThePrint that ONORC was discussed in one of the meetings of the empowered group constituted to come up with comprehensive strategies to deal with different issues pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramaniam had also recommended the portability of food security benefits in the 2017 Economic Survey to address high labour migration in India.

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’




doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay

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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”

Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot

‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.

Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


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