Only 15% of poor households have received the one kg of pulses promised for April under the Centre’s COVID-19 welfare package, according to an analysis of the government agency data. Of the 1.96 lakh tonnes of pulses that should have been given to more than 19 crore households this month, only 30,000 tonnes have been distributed so far, according to the Consumer Affairs Department.
Distribution is likely to speed up by the first week of May, with delays caused by the fact that the government only stores unmilled pulses in its godowns, and has had to start a massive milling operation before delivering them to ration shops.
Last month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced extra ration allocations from April to June as part of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, said to be worth ₹1.7 lakh crore. All 80 crore National Food Security Act beneficiaries were to get an extra 5 kg of rice or wheat each month, while each household was to get one kg of pulses to meet protein needs.
Given that all States already distribute rice and wheat through a well-established Public Distribution System, with grain provided from a network of the FCI warehouses, distribution of the promised extra grain began early in April. However, the distribution to more than 19 crore families was stalled by several hurdles.
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation is the nodal agency which procures and stores a buffer stock of pulses. To provide the necessary 5.88 lakh tonnes of cleaned and milled pulses promised under the scheme, NAFED has pressed over 100 dall mills into service to process about 8.5 lakh tonnes of unmilled pulses lying in about 165 godowns across the country.
“The scale of this operation is massive and far more complex than foodgrain movement,” according to a Consumer Affairs statement. “Each kg of pulse goes through at least three [in many cases four] trips by truck and as many cycles of loading and unloading. While for long distances, transport is being done through goods train, in most cases transportation is by road through trucks.”
Over four weeks, the operation involves about two lakh truck trips, a challenging target during the lockdown as many godowns and mills lie in hotspot areas. Availability of trucks and labour for loading and unloading has been a major problem in these areas, said the department.
Of the 1.96 lakh tonnes needed for April, about 1.45 lakh tonnes have been offered to States already. Only a few States have dal mills within their own jurisdiction and they have been asked to lift the milled pulses themselves to speed up the process.
So far, States have picked up only a third of the month’s requirement, with 17 States and Union Territories having begun distribution. Others intend to distribute the first instalment in the first week of May, along with that month’s foodgrain ration. In a number of States, efforts are being made to distribute the pulse ration for all three months in May itself.