PMGK Anna Yojana: From Gujarat to Punjab, states want free grain scheme to continue beyond September.

With several states across party lines — from BJP-ruled Gujarat to Congress-led Rajasthan — poised to extend the free food grain scheme (Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana) beyond September 30, the Center may be keen to continue it. At least for a few more months.

To alleviate the Covid woes, the PMGK Anna Yojana was initially announced for three months (April-June 2020) and extended several times with its sixth phase ending in September. Given the amount of wheat and rice now in buffer stock, free food grains can be provided to the poor for another three months till December 2022, sources said.

The Sunday Express reported on 4 September that the decision to extend it would be a “political call” given the costs involved. The bill is estimated at around Rs 80,000 crore for the first six months (April-September 2022) and the Department of Expenditure under the Union Finance Ministry, in an internal note, “advised against raising both on food grounds. Security and fiscal grounds.”

When contacted, Gujarat’s Food and Civil Supplies Minister Naresh Patel said the state is likely to request the central government to extend it further till Diwali. “The festival of Diwali will be in October. So, we may write to the central government to extend it till Diwali, so that it gives respite to poor families,” Patel told The Indian Express.

According to Patel, the state government is providing free food grains to about 71 lakh card holders under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), covering a population of about 3.5 crore.

Rajasthan Food and Civil Supplies Minister Pratap Singh Khachariawas said the Center must continue the PMGK Anna Yojana beyond September. “I will write to the Center about it. Also, the Center should also raise the limit on the number of NFSA beneficiaries for the states, as more people want to be included but we cannot include them due to the upper cap set by the Centre,” he told The Indian Express.

Some states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar said it was up to the Center to take the final decision as it was a central government scheme, others like Punjab and Maharashtra said they were awaiting the Centre’s response on extending it, and still others like Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana said That they have their own free food grain scheme. These three states have said that they will continue to distribute free foodgrains even if the Center ends the scheme.


Cost, reason

The cost of running the scheme for the next six months is estimated at around Rs 80,000 crore. While it will be a political call, the government is closely watching its buffer stock of wheat and rice which will be the key factor.

A government official said it is not so much the financial burden, but the buffer stock position that will influence the final decision. “It is definitely a political decision. If the government decides to go ahead, the finance ministry is equipped to deal with it. But a decision depends on the buffer stocks of rice and wheat,” a Union Finance Ministry source said.

There are concerns over wheat stocks due to lower production (106 million tonnes in 2021-22 as against 109 million tonnes in 2020-21) and significantly lower storage in the central pool (18.7 million metric tonnes this year compared to 43.3 million metric tonnes the previous year). As a result, wheat stocks fell to a 14-year low. The latest stock as of September 1 is 25 million metric tonnes.

While paddy stocks are above buffer stock norms, low sowing in the current kharif season due to uneven monsoons in paddy-producing states has caused some concern. Agriculture ministry data for the week ended September 9 showed coverage was 393.79 lakh hectares compared to 414.31 lakh hectares last year. “There could be a shortfall of around 10-12 million tonnes in rice production this kharif season,” Food and Public Distribution Department Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said at a press conference on Friday.

Agriculture ministry sources said wheat stocks in the central pool stood at around 25 million metric tonnes on September 1, 2022 – 16.45 lakh metric tonnes less than wheat stocks of 26.64 million metric tonnes on August 1 this year. As of September 1 this year, the stock of rice in the central pool was 24.6 million metric tons. But it is different from un-milled rice.

Under the PMGY Anna Yojana, 39.88 lakh metric tonnes of food grains – 7 lakh metric tonnes of wheat and 32.88 lakh metric tonnes of rice – are allocated every month, sources said. Also, 20 lakh metric tonnes of wheat is required to meet the monthly allocation under NFSA. If the monthly allocation of wheat under NFSA is added to the monthly distribution of PMGK Anna Yojana, the total amount of wheat in a month is about 27 lakh metric tonnes.

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Thus, in the remaining seven months (September-March) of the current financial year, around 18.9 million metric tonnes of wheat will be required. This means that around 6.1 million metric tonnes of wheat will be available till April 1, 2023, slightly less than the buffer requirement of 7.46 million metric tonnes at the beginning of the financial year every year.

Sources also mentioned that officials from several states mentioned that several beneficiary families of PMGK Anna Yojana chose to sell the surplus food grains allotted to them under the scheme during the Covid crisis and get the money instead. “But the Center decided to continue the scheme because the conclusion was that families wanted money to meet other requirements and it was a time of crisis. After all, the scheme was meant to alleviate the hardships faced by the poor during the pandemic,” the source said.

(With inputs from Liz Mathew and Harikishan Sharma in New Delhi, Deep Mukherjee in Jaipur, Parimal Davi in ​​Ahmedabad)

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