By: KAUSHIK ROY, AIR: News Analyst
As the world grappled with the first wave of the coronavirus crisis in Early 2020, nations came to a grinding halt as the virus was unknown and treatment, containment of the disease etc. were uncharted territories. To break the chain of the virus, countries across the world enforced lockdowns. The poor and vulnerable sections were the hardest hit; as suddenly they were faced with the prospect of joblessness and hunger. India too declared a nation-wide lockdown. However, one of the first decisions taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during that difficult period was to provide free rations to the weaker sections of India. 80 crore (800 million) Indians were provided 5 kgs of rice or wheat, one kg of pulses, a litre of cooking oil, condiments etc. completely free of cost. This scheme is continuing even today when the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is still on!
The scheme is known as “Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana”. Announcing the scheme last year, Prime Minister Modi had said, “The nation’s top priority during the lockdown was to ensure that no one remains hungry. Central government, state governments, civil society, all did their best to ensure that no one went to bed hungry. Thus, the central government has brought out the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana. Under this scheme, a package worth Rs. 1.75 lakh crore was provided for the poor”, Prime Minister had said.
The Pradhan mantra Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana has now been hailed by the United Nations ‘World Food Programme’. In a recent article, Bishow Parajuli, Programme Representative and Country Director, UNWFP said, “the vulnerable and marginalised families in India were continued to be buffered against food crisis by its robust Targeted Public Distribution System (PDS). Parajuli said states were allowed to lift their share of ration allocations for six months in one go. The Country Director of UNWFP said, there was an unprecedented spike in the uptake of subsidised and free food grains during the lockdown in India. The public distribution system became a lifeline for millions hit by the pandemic.
The National Democratic Alliance Government (NDA) also allowed NGOs/ civil society organisations to buy rice and wheat at subsidised prices directly from the Food Corporation of India godowns, this allowed many NGOs/ civil society organisations to provide cooked meals to people all across the country.
Parajuli said, India is one of the few countries in the world that has a National Food Security Act (NFSA), which guarantees minimum calorie intake to all its citizens. It is providing rations free of cost to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and priority households. While AAY households, which constitute the poorest of the poor are entitled to 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month, priority households are entitled to 5 kg per person per month. Corresponding to the all India coverage of 75% and 50% in the rural and urban areas.
Over Rs. 1.75 lakh crore was spent during the financial year 2020-’21 on the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana.
“One Nation, One Ration card” scheme was also implemented for the migrant labour, who go to other states, in search of employment. This provides labour from one state to get free rations at the place of their work.
Prime Minister Modi said the government is able to provide free ration to the needy and poor, due to the hard-working farmers and the honest taxpayers of our country. Farmers with their hard work and dedication, have filled the stocks of the nation, therefore, there is food in kitchen of the poor; and workers have paid tax honestly. That is why the poor of the country are successfully coping with such a big crisis. Prime Minister expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the farmers and taxpayers.
The UNWFP Country Director says, 2021 offers a unique opportunity for advancing food security and nutrition through transforming food systems. India has shown the way and it has a central role to play in ensuring global food security. India can offer her experiences and solutions for bringing in models for a resilient, equitable and food-secure world.