No word from Centre on extension of free food grain scheme

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The government remains tight-lipped on the possible extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, which was announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman as part of the first rescue package during the COVID-19 pandemic. The scheme ends on June 30.

The scheme, announced for a three month period, covered 80 crore ration card holders. Each household was provided 5 kg of food grains (rice or wheat) and 1 kg of pulses (only channa) free of cost. Already, 21 states — both BJP-ruled and Opposition-led governments — have appealed to the Centre to extend the scheme for another three months till September.

According to the latest information provided by the Union Ministry of Food and Public Distribution, a total of 116.02 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of food grains have been lifted under the scheme. In April, 93% of the food grains allotted to the States were distributed targeting 74.05 crore beneficiaries. In May, the distribution stood at 91% reaching 72.99 crore beneficiaries and in June 2020, 71% percent of allocated food grains have been distributed to 56.81 crore beneficiaries so far.

Union Food Minister Ramvilas Paswan refused to comment on the possible extension of the scheme. Senior officials at the Ministry said that the decision lay with the Prime Minister’s Office.

The States that have demanded an extension include the BJP-led States of Gujarat, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar (BJP is an alliance partner) and Assam.

An official statement from the Union Ministry said that the Food Corporation of India has “sufficient stock of food grains”. According to the Food Corporation of India, there was a stock of 266.29 LMT rice and 550.31 LMT wheat as on June 28. This is excluding the ongoing purchase of wheat and paddy stocks that have not yet reached the godowns. Each month, only about 55 LMT of food grains is required for distribution to ration card holders.

Reetika Khera, associate professor of economics at IIT Delhi and a researcher on food security, said that with the beginning of the monsoon, there was a real danger of food grains rotting. “Remember these buffer stocks are maintained precisely for such emergencies. The stocks are far in excess of norms, not all of it being stored safely. With the monsoon upon us, there’s a danger that some of it may rot,” she said.

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