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Centre’s free foodgrain scheme on till March

Union Cabinet also gives its formal approval to repeal the three contentious farm laws.

November 24, 2021 03:49 pm | Updated November 25, 2021 07:57 am IST - New Delhi

Only 55 crore have received their 5 kg per person quota of free wheat or rice under PMGKAY.

Only 55 crore have received their 5 kg per person quota of free wheat or rice under PMGKAY.

Acknowledging that poor families still need food security support in the middle of a recovering economy, the Centre has decided to extend its free ration scheme, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) , for another four months, until March 2022.

At its meeting on Wednesday, the Union Cabinet also gave its formal approval to repeal three contentious farm reform laws in the winter session of Parliament, as announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week.

 

“On [November] 19th, PM announced, and today, within five days, we have fulfilled all the formalities. In the upcoming winter session, the priority would be to take these Bills and repeal them at the earliest,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur told presspersons in a briefing on Cabinet decisions.

However, he evaded questions on the farmers’ continued demand for a legal guarantee on minimum support prices for their crops, and declined to set any timeline on the PM’s promise to set up a committee to make the MSP more effective and transparent, as well as to change crop patterns and promote zero-budget agriculture.

In its other major decision, the Cabinet approved the extension of the PMGKAY which provides more than 80 crore ration card holders with five kg each of rice or wheat a month free of cost, in addition to the five kg which they are eligible for on a subsidised basis under the National Food Security Act. Initially introduced in the first COVID-19 relief package from April 2020, the scheme has been extended thrice, but was scheduled to end in November. Earlier this month, Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey had told presspersons that there was no proposal for extension as the economy was reviving.

“In the last more than 20 months, we have seen that the poor, even the middle class families have suffered, not here but globally as well. One of the ways to help the poor families was to give them foodgrains,” Mr. Thakur said.

“We still feel as the economy is getting back on track, the figures are looking much better. At the same time, Prime Minister wants to help those poor families who have gone through this COVID-19 pandemic, so that for the next four months, they should be helped and foodgrains should be given to them,” the Minister added.

In the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, the State Government had announced a unilateral extension of the PMGKAY until March 2022.

Several other State Governments and political parties demanded an extension by the Centre, although Food Ministry officials said no direct request had been received, and Mr. Pandey insisted that the decision had not been taken with UP alone in mind.

This fifth phase of the scheme, from December 2021 to March 2022 will entail an estimated subsidy of ₹53,345 crore, with a total outgo of 163 lakh tonnes of grain, according to an official statement.

The first four phases have already seen almost 600 lakh tonnes of grain allocated to States, at a subsidy cost of about ₹2.07 lakh crore.

Mr. Pandey told presspersons that despite the higher outgo due to PMGKAY, the Food Corporation of India’s food grain reserves currently stand at a record 616 lakh tonnes and are expected to increase to 942 lakh tonnes by June 2022 following rabi season procurement, stretching FCI’s storage capacities to their maximum limits.

Right to Food activists have argued that given the high reserves, the Centre should extend PMGKAY till May and universalise subsidised food grain distribution as well.

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