Covid-19: Government Extends Free Foodgrain Transfers Till November
India will extend a programme for free transfer of foodgrain amid continuing economic disruptions due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an extension to Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, under which about 80 crore people received free foodgrains until June 2020. This scheme will now continue till November.
The entitlements under the scheme remain unchanged:
- Five kilogram of free wheat or rice per month will be provided to 80 crore people.
- Every family will additionally be entitled to 1 kilogram of free chana per month.
The extension will cost an estimated Rs 90,000 crore more, taking the total cost of the free foodgrain programme to Rs 1.5 lakh crore. The ‘One Nation One Card’ plan, intended to bring in a nationwide ration card, will also be pushed to further strengthen food security for migrant labour in the country, the Prime Minister said.
The free foodgrain and cash transfer programmes were set to end in June. While the government has extended the former, cash transfers of Rs 500 per month for women with Jan Dhan accounts have not been continued further.
Ample Food Stocks To Support Free Ration
Economists had argued for an extension of support to the most vulnerable sections of the population.
“Extending the doubling of food entitlements for those who are covered by the National Food Security Act is a very welcome move, a big relief, especially given the rising food stocks situation,” said Reetika Khera, professor of economics at IIT-Delhi. Also, inclusion and continuation of 1 kilogram of Dal is good and should be made a permanent entitlement, she said.
Data compiled by BloombergQuint from the Food Corporation of India shows that there are ample stocks of rice and wheat. These have continued to rise and the monthly distribution through the existing and new schemes is a small fraction of the stocks available.
These stocks, which also mean an economic cost for the government due to procurement and storage costs, should be used to expand the food security act mandate, said Khera.
“There is a need to go beyond the NFSA mandate. Many gig economy workers, street vendors, auto and taxi drivers etc, who otherwise managed on their own, are in need of support right now. Our food stocks allow us to expand the Public Distribution system,” Khera said.
Since the lockdown, crores of migrant workers and self-employed workers have lost livelihoods, incomes and savings, said Rajendran Narayanan, assistant professor at Azim Premji University, adding that it is critical that rations be extended to them as well. This is even more important for pregnant women and children who are not covered under NFSA. So, the need of the hour is to universalise rations and not just limit to NFSA beneficiaries, said Narayanan.