Coronavirus (COVID-19): Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan tells Harikishan Sharma that there is no shortage of foodgrain in the country, and about the steps being taken to ensure the smooth supply across states. Excerpts:
How will you ensure that the supply of foodgrain remains smooth in coming days?
As on April 20, we have a stock of 524.5 lakh metric tons (LMT) of foodgrain—289.5 LMT rice and 235 LMT wheat. Besides, procurement has been started for the rabi crop from April 15, which will increase the stock further.
Our monthly requirement is about 60 LMT. If we take into account requirement under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, an additional 180 LMT will be required. Thus, we have sufficient foodgrain in our godowns. There is no shortage. As far as lifting of foodgrain and its transportation is concerned, that work is being done at war footing. All employees and workers of the Food Corporation of India are doing a fantastic job; the Prime Minister himself has recognised their efforts. In just 27 days, about 44.58 LMT grain has been lifted and transported to different parts of the country until Monday. That’s not child’s play.
But there are complaints regarding non-availability of foodgrain to the poor, particularly migrant labourers in many states.
We are monitoring the situation regularly. I am in constant touch with states. I have spoken to ministers in-charge of food supplies departments of 18 states, including UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. These states have started lifting foodgrain according to their quota.
Besides, we are providing rice at Rs 22 per kg and wheat Rs 21 per kg under the Open Market Sale scheme. Any state can buy grains for distribution among people not covered under Food Security Act. There is no requirement of auctioning—they can take as much grain as they require.
Under PMGKY, there was an announcement of providing 1kg pulses to poor families at free of cost. Is that available on ground?
There are some problems as far as supply of pulses are concerned. We have a buffer stock of pulses but these are un-milled. There was a problem of milling these pulses but now that has been sorted out. Some states have received supply of pulses, while others are in the process. We will ramp up supply of pulses in the coming days.
Will the Centre extend additional 5-kg foodgrain to the poor under PMGKY beyond 3 months?
As of now, it is up to June. We will assess the situation after that.
Some states, including Bihar, have failed to identify about 40 lakh beneficiaries under NFSA-2013. Have you taken up the matter with these states?
Yes, it’s true that about 40 lakh people, out of the total number accepted under NFSA, have not been identified as beneficiaries under this Act. I have spoken to Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Modi and requested him to take necessary steps to complete identification of such people. I have also spoken with the CM of Himachal Pradesh. Identifying beneficiaries is the responsibility of states.
There is a demand for universalisation of the Public Distribution System. Do you think its time has come?
We want to help the needy. States can give ration to as many people as they want; they can take foodgrain under OMS and use State Disaster Response Fund.
There is a demand that NFSA beneficiaries’ number, which was fixed on the basis of 2011 Census, should be revised. Will the government take a step in this direction?
The number of beneficiaries under NFSA is fixed as per 2011 Census. According to the provisions of this Act, the revision of the population coverage will happen at an interval of 10 years. The next Census is due in 2021. So, the revision of NFSA beneficiaries’ number will be done on the basis of that.
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