In the politics over election doles, Punjab's Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government can give a lesson or two to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime at the Centre.
Virtually hijacking the Centre's flagship food security programme, the Punjab food and civil supplies department led by the chief minister's son-in-law, Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, has moulded it to fit into the state's own election-winning atta-dal scheme.
As the Centre has left it to the states to fix the criteria for selecting beneficiaries under the Food Security Act (FSA), the Punjab food department released advertisements this week to invite applications and asked deputy commissioners to enlist eligible families. Since under the FSA, 1.41 crore of the state's 2.7-crore population is to be listed as priority households, to keep things simple, the number of atta-dal families will be almost doubled from nearly 16 lakh to nearly 31 lakh.
These priority households will be issued new blue cards, carrying the pictures of the CM and his son-in-law, to help the Akali government walk away with the credit for subsidising the wheat to these families further from Rs 2 per kg under the FSA to Rs 1 per kg and making the meal wholesome by including 2.5-kg dal for Rs 20 per kg.
The annual income limit to qualify as new "poor" has also been doubled. Only the families able to certify that they make less than Rs 60,000 a year (it was Rs 30,000 earlier) are eligible. People who pay income tax and service tax, and keep more than 2.5 cultivable acres, air-conditioner, four-wheeler (car or tractor), or government job are ineligible.
While the earlier atta-dal list had left some of Centre's poor out, the revamped plan will give new blue cards to the state's all 4.6-lakh below-poverty-line (BPL) families, including 1.7 lakh covered under the Antyodoya Anna Yojana (AAY) for the poorest of the poor, which entitles them to 35 kg wheat each.
The cash-strapped food department, which has struggled to get even the Rs 350-crore budget it needs to continue running its populist scheme and owes its procurement agencies more than Rs 1,500 crore, has committed to now giving wheat for Rs 1 a kg to the existing atta-dal families from December 1, and both wheat and dal to 31 lakh families by January-February next year.
The number of the "poor" had risen from 9 lakh to nearly 16 lakh during the previous Akali-BJP regime, amid growing clamour for blue card. The government kept the scheme afloat by cutting down the entitlement per family, discontinuing the supply of dal, at times shifting to economical black gram, and resorting to loan.
Punjab food and civil supplies minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon and secretary DS Grewal could not be contacted for comments, in spite of repeated attempts.
HT fast facts
What is FSA
The Food Security Act, which became a law on September 12, is the flagship scheme of the United Progressive Alliance-2 government to give subsidised food (rice/wheat/coarse grains) to about 75% of rural and 50% of urban population in the country. The states decide the eligibility criteria.
What is atta-dal scheme
An election promise of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in its 2007 manifesto, was implemented from August 15, 2007. Nearly 16-lakh families, so far, given blue cards that entitles each of them to collect 25-kilogram wheat for Rs 4 per kg and Rs 2.5 kg dal for Rs 20 per kg.
FSA has to cover 1.41 cr of Punjab's 2.7-crore population as priority households, so new atta-dal scheme will cover double the number of beneficiaries (now 31 lakh) so that the Centre's condition is fulfilled. The families will get new blue card.
Each family under the FSA is to get 5-kg wheat per member for Rs 2 per kg. Under new atta-dal scheme, Punjab will subsidise wheat further to Rs 1 per kg, and throw in 2.5-kg dal as well for all 31-lakh families for Rs 20 per kg.