Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey was instrumental in digitisation of health services at the time of the corona pandemic. He had launched the digitised platform of the Flagship Health Schemes on NHA’s IT platform. The delivery of healthcare services to eligible beneficiaries under the national health scheme is made paperless. A veteran politician from Bihar, Choubey built 11,000 toilets for minority and Below Poverty Line families under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
In an exclusive interview with Anjali Bhatia, Mr Choubey gave an insight into the functioning of his ministry and future prospects.
Q: The government is planning to introduce ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ policy for the common man. States would have a major responsibility in this plan.What are the plans to make this a reality in the wake of some technical faults becoming a major concern?
A: To make the ‘One Nation and One Ration Card’ (ONORC) plan a success, the government plans to use modern technology. This will be done under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013. The beneficiaries would carry their monthly entitlement of food grains either in part or in full after showing their ration card or Aadhaar Card with biometric authentication. The fair price shop owner will install an electronic point of sale device to weigh the grains. People, particularly daily wage workers, labourers, ragpickers, street dwellers, temporary workers in both organised and unorganised sectors, domestic workers, etc. who change their dwellings often will be the main beneficiaries. Besides, the government has carried out a nationwide campaign through various means. It has also launched an app, “Mera Ration”, in 13 languages.
Q: Have you made an assessment of the beneficiaries under the NFSA? What measures are being adopted to check leakages?
A: Yes, we have made a review. According to our review, the scheme (ONORC) covers 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population in the country. To check leakage, the Union government has issued an advisory to all the states and Union territories to identify all eligible persons. The states are cleaning up their beneficiary database so that ineligible ration cards get deleted and deserving beneficiaries are ensured. This will be a continuous process. Besides, the department concerned in association with state governments and union territories has implemented a scheme ‘End-to-End Computerisation of Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) Operations’ including automation of Fair Price Shops (FPSs) to bring transparency and efficiency in the allocation and distribution of highly subsidised food grains.
Q: What is the total outlay under the PMGKAY Scheme?
A: So far, the total outlay under the PMGKAY is about Rs 3.91 lakh crore. This has been entirely borne by the Union government. The aggregate allocation of food grains has been more than 1,100 lakh metric tonne.
Q: The first phase of PM Poshan to improve nutrition has been implemented. What progress has been made so far?
A: The scheme is implemented across the country covering all eligible children without any discrimination of gender and social class. During Covid19, when schools were closed, the main problem faced by the government was providing cooked meals to eligible children. Therefore, all enrolled children were given Food Security Allowance (FSA) consisting of food grains and cooking costs. The main objectives of the PM Poshan Scheme (earlier known as the MidDay Meal Scheme) are to address two of the pressing problems for the majority of children in India – hunger and education – in government and government-aided schools. Parents and teachers have stated that mid-day meal has increased the enrolment of students up to 92 per cent.
Q: In view of the recent acid attack in the National Capital, what steps has the government taken or plans to take under the Consumer Protection Act? Would the sale of unsafe products be banned on e-commerce marketplaces?
A: The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) established under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, has sought explanation from e-commerce players including Flipkart Internet Private Limited and Fashnear Technologies Private Limited for gross violations of the sale of acid on its online platform.
Q: The Consumer Affairs Ministry receives thousands of complaints from consumers regarding the highhandedness of big e-commerce and online players. Over five lakh cases are pending in courts. What measures has the government taken to address the grievances of consumers?
A: For the purposes of preventing unfair trade practices and protecting the interests and rights of the consumers in e-commerce, the Central government has notified the Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 2020. The rules came into force on 23 July 2020 and prescribe the duties of e-commerce entities, liabilities of marketplace e-commerce entities, duties of sellers on the marketplace, and duties and liabilities of inventory e-commerce entities which inter-alia includes the duty to appoint a nodal officer or an alternate senior designated functionary who is resident in India to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Act. The duties of e-commerce entities include establishing adequate grievance redressal mechanisms. They further mandate that every ecommerce entity shall provide the contact details like e-mail address, fax, landline, and mobile number of the grievance officer in a clear and accessible manner on its platform which shall be displayed prominently to all users. The grievance officer is required to acknowledge the receipt of any consumer complaint within 48 hours and redress the complaint within a month. Further, the Department of Consumer Affairs operates a national consumer helpline (NCH) where consumers can lodge their grievances. All the complaints lodged with NCH are acknowledged through a docket number. Further, the consumers may take up their grievances with the three-tier dispute resolution mechanism through consumer commissions.
Q: What are the major achievements of your department in 2022?
A: Food and public distribution.
Q: What are the other policy reforms the government is contemplating on in 2023?
A: One of the key achievements of the department is Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY). To ameliorate the hardships faced by the poor due to economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government in March 2020 announced the distribution of additional free-of-cost food grains (rice/wheat) to about 80 crore needy people at the scale of 5 kg per person per month under the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY). So far, under the scheme, the department has allocated a total of about 1,118 LMT foodgrains for the poor people. The Prime Minister in his address on the 75th Independence Day (15 August 2021) made an announcement about providing nutrition by supplying fortified rice through government schemes. Pursuant to the announcement, the government of India has approved the supply of fortified rice throughout the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and in Other Welfare Schemes including ICDS and PM Poshan in the country in a phased manner. The implementation of Phase III would start during 2023-24 and all remaining districts of the country would be covered by March 2024. The TPDS reforms, One Nation One Ration Card and ONORC, have been enabled in all 36 States/UTs to cover around 80 crore NFSA beneficiaries, that is almost 100 per cent of the NFSA population in the country.