Given the continuing economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as rising inflation, the Centre must extend the distribution of free food grains under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, the Right to Food Campaign has said in a letter to Food Minister Piyush Goyal on Monday.
The scheme, which was part of the initial COVID relief package announced in March 2020, has been extended several times. However, last week, Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said there was no proposal to extend it beyond November 30, as the government felt the economic situation was reviving.
The PMGKAY provides for 5 kg of rice or wheat per person per month to be distributed free of cost to the 80 crore beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act, in addition to the subsidised grains already distributed under that law.
“The pandemic still exists and the uncertainty over livelihoods remains with unemployment at record levels,” said the letter. “At a time like this, when foodgrain stocks are at a record high and people are facing the real possibility of hunger and starvation, the government should universalise the public distribution system (PDS) to ensure that anyone in need of ration would be supported irrespective of whether they possess a ration card.”
The Campaign also suggested that pulses and cooking oils be added to the monthly entitlements, given the recent rise in prices of these commodities.
Noting that the Food Corporation of India held 90 million tonnes of foodgrains in its godowns as of September 2021, the Campaign argued that it was possible to extend PMGKAY for another six months and simultaneously universalise the distribution of subsidised grain via the PDS as well.