In a move that will have a major long-term implication, the Centre plans to expand the coverage of Below Poverty Line (BPL) population under the public distribution system (PDS) to 8.07 crore from the current 6.52 crore based on the acceptance of the Tendulkar Committee's poverty projections for 2011 by the Planning Commission. There will be no revision of quota per family or of the central issue prices.
This will entail an outgo of about 34 million tones of food grains annually and a food subsidy of about Rs. 54,000 crore annually on BPL account alone.
The poor would continue to get 35 kg of wheat at the subsidised rate of Rs. 4.15 a kg or rice at Rs 5.65 a kg. The 2.5 crore poorest of the poor (Antyodaya Anna Yojna) beneficiaries will also continue get their entitlement of wheat at Rs. 2 a kg or rice at Rs. 3 a kg.
The Union Food Ministry will seek the approval of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) for this at its next meeting and if it got the green signal it will begin distribution from Gandhi Jayanti on October 2.
A hint about this was given last month by Union Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar during the meeting on PDS Reforms with State governments where Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that the number of poor was estimated to be 8.07 crore on 2011 population projections.
The National Advisory Council headed by Sonia Gandhi has also taken this as the basis while recommending that PDS be universalised in the 150 poorest districts in the country.
The move to provide more food grains to the poor has assumed urgency after the Supreme Court's observation last week that the government distribute grains to the poor rather than allow them to get damaged for lack of adequate storage.
The apex court had questioned the necessity of providing subsidised grains to the non-poor (Above Poverty Line) populations.
Last Monday the government enhanced the entitlement for the APL to 15 kg per family per month at the rate of Rs. 6.10 a kg for wheat and Rs. 8.30 a kg for rice. The additional outgo on this score would be about 2.7 million tons. The total grain stocks with the government on July 1 were 57.8 million tonnes, of which 31.9 million tonnes is the buffer requirement. In this rabi season, the wheat procured so far is 22.5 million tonnes, which is lower than last year but almost the same as in 2008.
The Food Ministry has in the last six months offloaded about 4.5 million tons of food grains in the open market through its open market sale scheme.
After the EGoM's approval the Food Ministry will ask States to pick up their allocation of additional quota of grain to cover a larger population of BPL beneficiaries. No fresh identification of the poor will be required as States have already issued ration cards to over 10 crore BPL families against an allocation for 6.52 crore poor families from the Centre.