NEW DELHI: In a move to bolster food security for the poor impacted by a Covid-induced economic slowdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday extended the scheme to provide five kg foodgrains and one kg of pulses for free to 80 crore beneficiaries for another five months.
During a national broadcast, Modi said the five-month extension will cost around Rs 90,000 crore, taking the overall cost to Rs 1.5 lakh crore. Poor families are entitled to 5 kg grains every month under the National Food Security Programme and the government is topping up the entitlement with a matching quantity, with pulses thrown in, at no charge. The other elements of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, however, ended on Tuesday.
The decision was also seen as an early start to the campaign for Bihar elections due later this year, a state which has a large number of migrant workers who would be beneficiaries. The politically competitive element was apparent with West Bengal — due for polls in early 2021 and where BJP has emerged challenger — announcing that free foodgrains will be continued till June next year.
The announcement was seen aimed at strengthening BJP’s grip over a key vote-bank ahead of the crucial state elections by tapping into the massive pile of wheat and rice with the Food Corporation of India — estimated at 98 million tonnes, more than twice the prescribed level. While it has 83 million tonnes of grains, another 15 million tonnes of paddy is with millers which will come back in the form of rice. In his remarks on the festival season, while emphasising the need for social distancing, Modi made it a point to mention Chhath, a popular religious event in Bihar.
“Today, if the government is able to provide free ration to the needy and poor, then credit for it goes to two categories. One — hard working farmers of our country. Second, honest taxpayers of our country. It is your hard work and dedication, due to which the nation is able to do it. You have filled the stocks of the nation, therefore, there is food in the kitchen of poor and workers. You paid the tax honestly, you fulfilled your duty. That is why the poor of the country is successfully coping with such a big crisis,” Modi said.
On May 25, TOI was the first to report about a possible extension of the scheme under the PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana. On June 18, TOI reported that at least 10 CMs had approached the Centre, recommending an extension amid record procurement of wheat.