New Delhi: In a bid to support the poor recovering from the COVID-19 shock, the Centre on Wednesday decided to further extend the free supply of 5kg foodgrains per month under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Anna Yojana for four months till March 2022, a decision that will cost an additional Rs 53,344 crore to the exchequer.
The decision, which will benefit over 80 crore ration card holders covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), was taken in the Cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Free foodgrains under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) scheme, announced in March last year to provide relief to the poor during the COVID pandemic, is over and above the normal quota provided under the NFSA at a highly subsidised rate of Rs 2-3 per kilogram.
The PMGKAY has been extended several times, and the previous extension was valid till November 30. Briefing about the decision, I&B Minister Anurag Thakur said the Cabinet has extended the PMGKAY programme by four months till March 2022.
When asked about the reasons for the extension of this scheme, Thakur explained that the Prime Minister wanted to help the poor, who had gone through the COVID-19 pandemic, with the distribution of free foodgrains for another four months even as the economy is getting back on track. The four-month further extension of the PMGKAY will cost an additional Rs 53,344 crore to the exchequer, he said, adding that the total cost of the PMGKAY would reach about Rs 2.6 lakh crore, including all five phases of this ongoing programme.
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Elaborating more in a separate press briefing, Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said: ”It is a pro-active measure to support people when they are in the process of recovery. The economy is in a state of recovery. People are also recovering from the (pandemic) shock. This is very a good decision to extend a lending hand to the population”.
Asked if this decision was taken to help the Uttar Pradesh government, which had announced early November the extension of this scheme till Holi, the secretary said, ”The decision has not been taken for one state, it is for the entire country”.
The total outgo in terms of foodgrains for Phase-IV implementation of PMGKAY is likely to be about 163 lakh tonnes, which would entail an estimated additional food subsidy of Rs 53,344.52 crore, he said. The state-run Food Corporation of India (FCI) has been directed to make available the foodgrains and rail rakes for its movement, he added.
When asked if there were demands from states for the extension of the PMGKAY, a senior Food Ministry official said that there was no direct request made from state governments. The decision was taken on account of the general demand and COVID-19 scenario. In the wake of economic disruptions caused by the unprecedented outbreak of COVID-19 in the country last year, the government had in March 2020 announced the distribution of additional free-of-cost foodgrains (rice/wheat) to about 80 crore National Food Security Act (NFSA) beneficiaries.
The Phase-I and Phase-II of this scheme were operational from April to June 2020 and July to November 2020, respectively. The Phase-III of the scheme was operational from May to June 2021, while Phase-IV of the scheme is currently operational for July-November, 2021.
So far, under the PMGKAY (phase I to IV), the Centre has sanctioned a total of almost 600 lakh tonnes of foodgrains to the States/UTs, equivalent to about Rs 2.07 lakh crore in food subsidy. Out of which, 541 lakh tonnes of grains have been distributed so far.