Script: Vinit Wahi, Senior Journalist
Concerned at the plight of poor people due to disruptions caused by India’s deadly surging Covid19 the second wave, the Government of India last week decided to resume the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojna or PMGKAY, a programme to distribute free foodgrain to the poor as food assistance.
Over 800 million beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act will get an additional 5 kg of wheat or rice and 1 kg of gram free during May and June 2021 under the scheme which was launched first in April 2020 during the national lockdown. Under this special scheme, PMGKAY, around 80 crore NFSA beneficiaries were covered under both categories of NFSA, namely Antoydaya Anna Yojna or AAY and Priority Householders or PHH will be provided with an additional quota of free of cost foodgrains, that is rice/wheat at a scale of 5 kg a person per month, over and above their regular monthly entitlements, according to an official.
The country has plentiful stocks of foodgrains to meet demand, a food ministry official said. Even the Prime Minister has stressed it is important that the poor have nutritional support when the country is facing a sudden surge in coronavirus cases. According to the official data available, the Food Corporation of India currently has 77 million tonnes of foodgrains, 3.6 times more than the required emergency reserve for this time of the year. Nearly 810 million qualify for subsidised foodgrains under the food security law wherein beneficiaries gets 5 kg of wheat or rice covers a person per month. The Act applies to a whopping 67 per cent of the population, that is, 75 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban pockets.
The Union Government will bear the full expenditure of over Rs. 26,000 crore for the additional foodgrain allocation to the beneficiaries as part of central assistance to states, the official informed. In 2020, when India imposed a strict four-month lockdown to deal with the pandemic, a migrant crisis had gripped the entire country. Thousands of jobless migrants fled cities and faced hunger.
Now about 80 lakh tonne of foodgrains will be required to meet the demand for these two months. The state governments of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Kerala had recently demanded reintroduction of the PMGKAY scheme as the second wave of COVID19 assumed significant and alarming proportions. Under the PMGKAY, last year over 200 lakh tonne of free foodgrains were provided amounting to a fiscal outgo of over Rs. 75,000 crore, covering 80.96 crore NFSA beneficiaries.
It was felt a Central programme was needed to support the poor listed under the NFSA as it could help them cope with economic distress caused due to recent lockdowns in some states. It was observed a large number of people may grapple with uncertainties looming large over their livelihood and unemployment. So keeping all these things in mind, the scheme has been rolled out again for the next two months as the country’s overstretched health infrastructure reached its capacity and several states have taken steps like night curfew or complete lockdown to contain further spread of dreaded disease even as the prime minister had recently advised that complete lockdown should be imposed only as a last resort.
However, people can take comfort from the fact the government, in the recent past, had started several pro-poor welfare schemes which may help mitigate the sufferings of the poor and migrants at this critical juncture. While the PMGKAY is one of them, others include Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rozgar Yojna – aimed at increasing rural employment, especially among migrant workers who returned home during pandemic peak time, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi.
While the government has put its best foot forward to deal with the crisis which may well worsen in days to come, one sincerely hopes the second wave would soon be arrested and people may yet not be wanting to go back to their native places fearing job loss or basic food requirement.