Amid the second wave of Covid-19 and localised lockdown announced by some states that has triggered a return of migrants, Uttarakhand, Kerala and Rajasthan have requested the Centre to consider releasing free food grains to all the 81 crore ration card holders, similar to the one under PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY) last year after imposition of nation-wide lockdown. However, the Centre is non-committal on launching the scheme again.
“Suggestion has been received from some states and public representatives by the Centre to consider re-launching the scheme (PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana). At this stage it is not possible to comment on this. But the government’s thinking has been liberal and positive,” union food secretary Sudhansu Pandey told reporters on Thursday.
The Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) is still continuing in some states where private sector and welfare institutions are offered food grains at concessional rates. Last year, the offtake under OMSS was around 30 lakh tonne, Pandey said.
The Centre had to discontinue the Rs 3,100-crore scheme of free grains for an estimated 8 crore migrant workers under the Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme after completion two months due to lack of response from the states. Only 2.13 crore migrant workers availed the benefit of free grains in May-June. As many as 12 states had distributed less than 1% food grains while 6 states said that they didn’t have any beneficiary under this scheme. Only seven states and union territories, including Rajasthan, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh had distributed 50% or more of the allocated grains to migrant workers.
However, the free foodgrains to all the beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) during April-November last year was a huge success with 32.2 million tonne of food grains lifted by states from the Central Pool stock. The total expenditure of the Centre was as high as Rs 1.49 lakh crore on this account, including about Rs 12,000 crore on distribution of pulses and chana under the PMGKAY scheme. The NFSA beneficiaries were offered same amount of free-of-cost grains extra apart from their regular entitlement (5kg per person every month) under the law.
On the current procurement of wheat, Pandey said that so far, 64.8 lakh tonne has been purchased at MSP at a cost of Rs 12,800 crore, benefitting over 6.5 lakh farmers. Since the procurement started late last year (from April 15) due to lockdown, the wheat purchases in the year-ago period was only 60 tonne. This year, wheat purchases have started in every state barring Bihar in which it will commence from April 20, he said.
After Haryana and Punjab have accepted to transfer the money to farmers’ bank accounts from this year, the entire country has now been covered under the direct benefit transfer (DBT) for the procurement under the minimum support price (MSP), Pandey said.