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Govt extends free ration scheme by three months

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Govt extends free ration scheme by three months

In March, the Cabinet had extended the scheme for six months until September 30. The fresh renewal for another three months marks the seventh phase of the food handout programme.

The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday approved the continuation of PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), a free food scheme launched as a Covid-relief measure in March 2020, for three months spanning October-December , minister for information and broadcasting Anurag Singh Thakur said.

Under the scheme, nearly 800 million people identified under provisions of the National Food Security Act 2013 have been getting 5 kg of foodgrain free of cost. This ration is in addition to their monthly quota of subsidised foodgrain. The food-security Act applies to 67% of the country’s population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban pockets).

In March, the Cabinet had extended the scheme for six months until September 30. The fresh renewal for another three months marks the seventh phase of the food handout programme.

The total cost of scheme since its launch till December 2022 will be ₹3.91 lakh crore, according to a Cabinet note. The cost for the October-December period works out to ₹44,762 crore.

“The next three months are a festival time. The government has adequate stocks of foodgrains. The impact of Covid is still visible in supply-line disruptions. So, the prime minister has decided to continue the scheme for another three months,” Thakur said.

The decision to extend the PMGKAY came on the back of the food ministry’s inputs that current stocks of federally held grains would be adequate to continue the scheme, a person aware of the development said. According to the food ministry’s calculations, about 12.2 million tonnes of foodgrains would be required to run PMGKAY till December . The food and finance ministries held monthlong consultations on PMGKAY’s extension before the proposal was moved for Cabinet’s approval, the person said.

Extreme weather this year is expected to lower the country’s cereal output. A prolonged heatwave in March crimped wheat output, plunging federally held stocks to a 14-year low, prompting the government to ban exports.

Following the shortfall of wheat, the government in May replaced a part of the winter-grown staple with additional 5.5 million tonne of rice, keeping PMGKAY going.

A patchy monsoon is likely to cut kharif or summer-sown rice output by 6% compared to the previous year, the government’s first of the four quarterly advance estimates showed last week. To boost domestic availability, the government curbed rice shipments abroad, imposing a 20% export levy.

The food ministry’s calculations show that the government has more than double the required 12.2 million tonnes of foodgrains. Wheat will be sown next month, the beginning of the winter-sown rabi season, which will replenish stocks.

Initially, in 2020-21, the PMGKAY scheme was announced only for a period of three months — April, May and June 2020 (Phase-I). Later, the government extended the scheme from July to November 2020 (Phase-II). With the COVID-19 crisis continuing in 2021-22, the Centre had in April 2021 re-introduced the scheme for a period of two months, May and June 2021 (Phase-III) and extended it for another five months from July to November 2021 (Phase-IV).

The scheme was again extended from December 2021 to March 2022 (Phase-V). On March 26, the Centre further extended the scheme to provide 5 kg of foodgrains free of cost to the poor for six months till September 30 at a cost of ₹80,000 crore.

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