Acceding to demand from states, the Centre on Friday decided to distribute 8 million tonne (MT) of foodgrain free of cost to all the 81 crore ration card holders under Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) during May-June.
Under the programme, which will cost Rs 26,000 crore to the exchequer, in addition to their regular entitlement of 5 kg per person every month under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), an additional equivalent quantity of wheat and rice will be distributed to the beneficiaries.
Uttarakhand, Kerala and Rajasthan governments as well as a few prominent political leaders had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking re-start of the PMGKAY scheme, which was a huge success last year with nearly 100% offtake of the grains allocated. Union food secretary Sudhanshu Pandey last week had hinted at the re-launch plan.
During April-November last year, 32.2 million tonne of foodgrain were lifted by states under PMGJAY from the Central Pool stock. The Centre spent Rs 1.49 lakh crore on this account, including about Rs 12,000 crore on distribution of pulses and chana, under the scheme.
“The initial demand for the free foodgrain was to cover the migrants who have returned to their native states following the lockdown and other Covid-related restrictions. If demand arises, pulses may also be considered for distribution and the two-months duration may also be extended depending on the Covid situation,” an official source said. Food ministry officials also maintain that there is sufficient stock of rice and wheat with the government.
The decision to distribute the grains free of cost came after prime minister chaired a high-level meeting over video conferencing, on Covid-19 situation with chief ministers of 11 states and union territories which have reported a spurt in Corona-positive cases recently.
According to Food Corporation of India, the official reserves had 77.23 MT of food grains as on April 1 comprising 49.93 MT of rice (including 31.06 MT in form of unmilled paddy), 27.3 MT of wheat, up 4.6% from the year-ago period. The current stocks of food grains with FCI are also more than three times the buffer norm of 21.04 MT.
“Since the release of the Central Pool stocks under NFSA and other welfare schemes is about 61 MT per year, the government needs to think of distributing the rice and wheat through some other measures,” said an expert. There has been suggestion by economists to monetise the grains to realise about Rs 50,000 crore immediately.
The Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) is still continuing in some states where private sector and welfare institutions are offered food grains at concessional rates. Last year, the offtake under OMSS was around 3 MT.
The Centre had to discontinue the Rs 3,100-crore scheme of free grains for an estimated 8 crore migrant workers under the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme after completion two months due to lack of response from the states. Only 2.13 crore migrant workers availed the benefit of free grains in May-June. As many as 12 states had distributed less than 1% food grains while six states said that they didn’t have any beneficiary under this scheme. Only seven states and union territories, including Rajasthan, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh had distributed 50% or more of the allocated grains to migrant workers.