Updated: April 16, 2021 9:28:04 am
With the country battling a second wave of coronavirus, at least three state governments and several Opposition MPs have urged the Centre to start a free foodgrain scheme for the poor on the lines of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), announced last year when the first wave of the infection was at its peak.
Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Kerala governments and several Opposition leaders – NCP chief Sharad Pawar, senior Trinamool MP Sougata Ray and CPI Rajya Sabha member Binoy Viswam among them — are learnt to have written to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution to start a free foodgrain scheme on the lines of PMGKAY, which was launched as part of the government’s package announced in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
While no decision has been taken yet on the requests, Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey on Thursday said that the government has “liberal thinking” on the issue.
What package last year comprised
Responding to a media question, Pandey said, “Kuchh rajya sarkaaron ki taraf se, kuchh jan pratinidhiyon ki taraf se sujhaav aaye hain ki uss tarah ki scheme ko dubara Bharat sarkaar consider kare. Abhi is stage ke oopar merey liye yah kahna sambhav nahin hoga, lekin jis tarah ki situation hai usko dekhte huye Bharat sarkaar ki soch bahut liberal hai, bahut achchhi hai (There have been suggestions from some state governments as well as public representatives that the Government of India should consider starting a similar scheme again. I am not in position to say anything more at this point of time, but in view of the prevailing situation, the government’s thinking is very liberal, very good).”
Pandey confirmed that there are three or four states that have made “specific requests” to start the scheme of free foodgrain on the lines of the PMGKAY.
Sharing details of the procurement operations during current rabi marketing season (RMS 2021-22), Pandey said, “We have made very good progress, as 64.7 lakh metric tonnes of procurement of wheat has taken place until April 14.”
Until April 14, a quantity of only 60 metric tonnes of wheat was procured, he said.
He said that so far wheat worth Rs 12,800 crore at MSP of Rs 1,975 per quintal have been procured, benefiting 6.60 lakh farmers until April 14, in the current rabi marketing season. Pandey hoped that the figure would touch the target of 427 LMT of procurement in the current RMS.
On a question about reports on farmers’ allegations that arhatiyas – or commission agents – are demanding ‘signed blank cheques’ from them to facilitate procurement, Pandey said, “We have seen these reports in the media…MSP is the right of farmers. The government pays the levies, taxes and other expenses, including 2.5 percent commission to arhatiyas in the procurement process. Therefore, there is no clash or encroachment on any stakeholders’ interests. They are getting their rights.”
He said, “Earlier, the money had to be routed through arhatiyas’ accounts, but now it is being credited directly in farmers’ accounts.”
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