Acknowledging that the Covid pandemic and the lockdown have hit the poor the hardest, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday announced extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) for 80 crore people till the end of November.
The scheme to distribute free ration to the poor during the lockdown was to end Tuesday. By announcing the five-month extension in an address to the nation, the Prime Minister chose to lend weight to the government’s efforts to address a pressing domestic problem at a time it is being targeted by the Opposition over the plight of the poor and the migrants.
Modi also underlined the need for a One Nation, One Ration Card: “We have a dream for the whole country, and some states have really done well. We are requesting other states also to take it forward… One Nation, One Ration Card… the entire nation will have one ration card. The poor will benefit the most from this. It will help those who go to other states in search of employment.”
Saying “we are now entering Unlock-Two in our fight against the corona pandemic”, he urged people not to be careless. He said adherence to precautions such as use of masks, social distancing and hygiene were of utmost importance. In this context, he said the “Prime Minister of a country was fined Rs 13,000 for not wearing a mask in a public place” – the reference was to the penalty imposed on Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov for not wearing a protective face mask during a visit to a church.
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But the issue of free ration to the poor was the focal point of the Prime Minister’s address: “Over 80 crore people were given free ration for three months. It means, every member of the family was given 5 kilogram wheat or rice, free of cost. In addition, every family got one kilogram of dal per month, free of cost. In a way, over 2.5 times the population of the United States, 12 times the population of the United Kingdom and double the population of the European Union were given free ration by our government.”
“In our country, there are many activities in agriculture during and after the rainy season. Other sectors do not have much activity. July also marks the beginning of the festive season. 5th July is Guru Purnima, then the month of Saawan starts. Then 15th August is coming, Raksha Bandhan, Sri Krishna Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Onam will follow. Further, Kati Bihu, Navratri, Durga Puja are coming, then Dussehra, Diwali and Chhath Puja. This festive season increases necessities as well as expenditure. Keeping all these in mind, it has been decided to extend the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana up to Diwali and Chhath Puja, till November-end.”
“It means this scheme of giving free ration to 80 crore people will continue through July, August, September, October, November. The government will provide free ration to 80 crore poor brothers-sisters for five months. Every member of the family will get five kilogram wheat or rice. Also, every family will get one kilogram of whole chana per month, free of cost.”
“Over 90,000 crore rupees will be spent on this extension of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana. If we add expenditure of the last three months on this scheme, then it comes to around 1.5 lakh crore rupees.”
He said “if the government is able to provide free ration to the needy and poor, then credit for it goes to two categories. One, hardworking farmers of our country. Second, honest taxpayers of our country. It is your hard work and dedication, due to which the nation is able to do it. You have filled the stocks of the nation, therefore, there is food in the kitchens of the poor, workers. You paid the tax honestly; you fulfilled your duty. That is why the poor of the country are successfully coping with such a big crisis. On behalf of all the poor of the country, I express my heartfelt gratitude to all taxpayers and farmers, and also salute them”.
“In the coming days, we will further strengthen our efforts and continuously work to empower the poor, downtrodden and deprived sections of society. While taking all the precautions, we will further expand economic activities. We will work ceaselessly for Atmanirbhar Bharat. We all will be vocal for local,” he said.
The PMGKAY is one of the main components of the Centre’s Rs 1.70 lakh crore relief package under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for the poor to “help them fight the battle against coronavirus”. It was announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on March 26.
The scheme involves providing additional 5 kg foodgrain free to 80 crore beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), over and above their monthly entitlement. Initially, it was for three months — April, May and June only.
Earlier, the government was distributing one kilogram of dal along with 5 kg wheat or rice. The milling of pulses, however, ended up delaying delivery and distribution of dal. Changing it to chana is expected to speed up delivery.
Incidentally, several state Chief Ministers and Congress president Sonia Gandhi had written to the Prime Minister, asking him to extend the scheme
The government had made additional allocation of 1.20 crore metric tons of food grains under PMGKAY for three months (April-June 2020). Out of about the monthly allocation of 40 lakh metric tonnes, states have distributed about 93 per cent in April, 92 per cent in May and 74 per cent in June. West Bengal is the only state that has not distributed food grains for May and June. Some states, for instance Bihar and Delhi, have distributed less food grains than the national average.
According to the latest buffer norms, which are in place since July 2017, the government has to maintain a stock of at least 210.40 lakh MT of food grains as on April 1; 411.20 lakh MT as on July 1; 307.70 lakh MT as on October 1; and 214.10 lakh MT as on January 1.
According to the Food Ministry, “As on June 29, 2020, FCI has 266.22 lakh metric tonnes of rice and 550.49 LMT wheat. Therefore, a total stock of 816.71 LMT food grains is available. (Excluding the ongoing purchase of wheat and paddy, which have not yet reached the godown).”
“Under NFSA and other welfare schemes, about 55 LMT food grains are required for a month,” the Ministry stated.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan hailed the Prime Minister’s announcement on extension of the scheme until November-end.
Calling it “a historic step in the interest of poor”, Paswan said: “I would like to urge all state governments to ensure that the benefits of this scheme reach the poor immediately. They should start lifting food grains from today.”
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