Centre okays free ration for poor via food security act till December 23 under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana

The government on Friday said it would provide free ration to about 813 million poor in the country under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for one year in a bid to shield the masses from shocks to the system at a time the economy was recovering in the aftermath of the Covid crisis.

At the same time, the government has decided to halt a temporary Covid-19 relief measure – the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY) – that provided 5kg per person per month additional free dry ration from April 2020 to December 31 this year. It announced that it was “merging” the “free” part of PMGKAY with the regular food security schemes under NFSA, which would previously provide subsidised ration to the poor. Consumer affairs, food and public distribution minister Piyush Goyal said the fresh move will raise the Centre’s annual food subsidy bill by ₹2 lakh crore.
Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana
Addressing a news briefing after the Cabinet’s decision, Goyal said the government provided 5kg per person per month free food grains to the poor immediately after the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic that continued for over 28 months, which was an example of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “sensitive personality”. He said the government continued this relief until the economic situation normalised fully.

Additional free dry ration was given to the poor apart from their regular entitlements under the NFSA because the pandemic had a devastating impact on the economy due to a hard lockdown of 68 days beginning March 25, 2020. The temporary scheme, PMGKAY, will end on December 31 after several extensions.

PMGKAY is a scheme that supplemented the NFSA. Under the NFSA, which is available in all states and Union Territories, highly subsidised foodgrains to the poor are given under two categories – households covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and priority households (PHH). The monthly entitlement of foodgrains under the NFSA is 5kg per person for eligible households under “priority” category and 35kg per family for AAY households after paying a nominal amount.

Goyal said the central government gives food grains under the NFSA at subsidised rates – ₹3 per kg for rice and wheat for ₹2 per kg. “Now, honorable Prime Minister has taken a historic decision that the food security being provided to the poor under the National Food Security Act will be completely free across the country,” he said.

The grains will now be available for free to “approximately 81.35 crore” (813.50 million) poor, who used to pay for the highly subsidised 35 kg food grains, he said. Rest of the people, who used to get 5 kg grains at subsidised rates, will also get it free for one year till December 2023, he added.

“Hon’ble Prime Minister has raised the total food subsidy to ₹2 lakh crore [per annum],” he said.

Replying to a specific query on whether the government has merged PMGKAY and NFSA, Goyal said the extra grains under PMGKAY were given because of the economic situation due to the pandemic that no longer exists. “Now, generally, the economic situation has normalised,” he said, adding that the government has given free grains to the poor under the existing regular schemes of NFSA.

After providing monthly 5kg free dry ration worth over ₹3.90 lakh crore to over 800 million poor since the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, the government dropped the temporary relief measure with some modifications in the existing NFSA schemes to continue providing more relief to the poor.

There was a thought within the government to discontinue this scheme, which was launched in 2020 for three months initially – April, May and June – with a specific objective to shield the poor from a hard nationwide lockdown imposed from March 25, 2022 to check the spread of the pandemic, two officials aware of the development said, asking not to be named. PMGKAY has been extended seven time since its launch.

“Some government departments were against further extension of the scheme for three key reasons – huge revenue implications, diminishing food stock position, and that the temporary emergency relief measure must not take a permanent character,” one of them said.

“In the past also, the scheme was discontinued for a brief period of five months [December 2020-April 2021]. It was also tweaked as initially 1kg per person per month pulses were given in the first phase [April-June 2020]. Later, in the second phase [July-November 2020] it was replaced with whole chana, and subsequently pulses or chana were removed from the scheme,” he said.

The Union Cabinet on September 28 approved the seventh phase of PMGKAY. An official statement issued after the Cabinet decision said the extension was given to support “poor and vulnerable” sections of society during the forthcoming “major festivals like Navratri, Dussehra, Milad-un-nabi, Deepawali, Chhath pooja, Gurunanak Dev Jayanti, Christmas, etc” so that they continue to enjoy the benefits of easy availability of foodgrains without any financial distress.

The decision to extend PMGKAY into the seventh phase was taken after review of the food stock situation, the second person said. “The stock was more than adequate to meet ongoing food security schemes, if not overwhelming,” he said.

Source: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/centre-okays-free-ration-for-poor-via-food-security-act-till-december-23-101671823185349.html

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