Food aid extension may have grassroots impact

Two people involved in the discussions before Modi announced the extension of the Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna said that it was felt that such action would also have a “direct impact” at India’s “grassroot level” on mitigating the crisis impact.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to extend the free foodgrain programme for 800 million poor people for another five months(PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to extend the free foodgrain programme for 800 million poor people for another five months(PTI)
Updated on Jul 02, 2020 06:25 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySaubhadra Chatterji and Zia Haq, New Delhi

India’s overflowing granaries and a longer-than-anticipated recovery time to normalcy from the Covid-19 crisis are the two key factors behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to extend the free foodgrain programme for 800 million poor people for another five months, people aware of the matter said.

Two people involved in the discussions before Modi announced the extension of the Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna on Tuesday added that it was also felt that such action would also have a “direct impact” at India’s “grassroot level” on mitigating the impact of the crisis.

While the discussions had been going on for the past couple of weeks, a detailed meeting chaired by the Prime Minister took place on Monday to prepare the final plan. Modi’s decision to continue the handout was well-received by experts and political circles.

“Sufficient availability of food grains provided the much-needed support for the scheme. But as the procurement has been quite good, there is also a need to distribute the produce to create space for fresh crops,” said a functionary involved in the planning, requesting anonymity.

Food Corporation of India (FCI), the centre’s main grain trading agency, undertook the largest procurement of food stocks ever this year.

“Procurement operations were delayed due to the first phase of the lockdown, starting 15 days late on April 15. The government was able to buy record wheat harvests of 38.2 million tonnes by June 16,” food minister Ram Vila’s Paswan told HT.

He said he was constantly in touch with states where offtake, or drawing of grains and distribution, was less than 90% of the stocks received. “We will hold states food ministers’ meetings shortly to push states to utilise the free foodgrains till the next five months so that apart from 810 million people with ration cards... 80 million undocumented migrants get their ration quota,” he said.

Since the government expects another bumper harvest from Kharif or summer-sown crops, the food ministry, based on its stock position, favoured extension of the offer of free foodgrains during discussion with the PMO, an official of the ministry said.

In the first phase, the garib kalyan anna yojna was targeted for three months but as the battle against Covid drags on, the government had to extend its free foodgrain scheme.

“As we review the situation, it is clear that it normalcy will take longer-than-anticipated time. There is also a limited reverse movement of migrants in larger cities as many of them prefer to stay home in these uncertain times. So, the government planned something to give direct relief to the grassroots for a longer period,” said another functionary involved in the planning.

The final decision to cover all important festivals till Chhat puja and convey it much in advance was aimed at assuring people that they don’t need to worry about food during celebrations and thereby send the right political message. “Many people may point out that the government mentioned that the anna yojna will cover Chhat puja keeping in mind Bihar elections, but don’t forget that Bihar has received three million migrant workers—the highest after UP’s 3.7 million,” said another functionary.

The scheme to give 5kg free rice or wheat to each member of a family and 1kg of free pulses monthly to each family has seen lifting of 113 lakh metric tonnes of foodgrain by the states till June 20. More than 700 million people benefitted from the scheme in April and May.

The government has paid about Rs 73,500 crore in liquid cash, or money in hand, to 4.2 million farmers till June 17 for the record procurement. Eleven chief ministers had made a demand for extension of the free food grain scheme, which was forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The FCI currently has 38.8 million tonnes of wheat and 74.5 million rice in federally held stocks, which is several times more than the four million tonne of buffer or emergency stocks the government must compulsorily set aside, according to official data. This excludes ongoing purchases that have not reached the FCI’s silos. The government ordinarily needs 5.5 million tonnes of foodgrains to meet requirement of ration distribution to 810 million beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act 2013 and other welfare schemes.

Under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat package, the government has set a distribution target of 0.8 million tonnes of foodgrains to an estimated 80 million migrants who are not covered under the National Food Security Act or any state scheme. They are being given 5 kg of foodgrain per person free of cost per month.

Under the PMGKAY, a total of 10.1 million tonnes of rice and 1.5 million tonnes of wheat have been drawn by states and Union territories. In May, a total 3.6 million tonnes (91% of stocks taken) foodgrains were distributed to 720 million beneficiaries and in the month of June so far, 2.8 million tonnes (71% of stocks received) foodgrains have been distributed to 560 million beneficiaries

Along with cereals, the government is bearing 100% of the cost of Rs 5,000 crore for distribution of pulses. So far, 0.570 million tonnes of lentils have been dispatched to states, while 0.440 million tonne has been distributed, according to official data.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022