New Delhi: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we ensured that no one goes to bed hungry, with a scheme to supply free food grains to over 80 crore persons for 28 months”, said Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance, in her budget speech for the financial year 2023-24. She added, “Continuing our commitment to ensure food and nutritional security, we are implementing, from January 1, 2023, a scheme to supply free food grain to all Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and Priority HouseHolds (PHH) for the next one year, under PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY). The entire expenditure of about Rs. 2 lakh crore will be borne by the Central Government.”
The distribution of free ration is laudable but a microscopic view of the budget shows that the food Subsidy provided by the Government of India for the supply and distribution of foodgrains and other essential commodities has witnessed a major hit.
For Financial Year 2023-24, the centre has allocated Rs. 1,97,350 crore for food subsidy, a 31.28 per cent decrease compared to the previous year’s Revised Estimates (REs) of Rs. 2,87,194.05 crore. This decrease in allocations comes after significant increases in allocations in FY 2020-21, FY 2021-22 and FY 2022-23, due to additional foodgrains provided to families as part of the COVID-19 pandemic relief package, particularly under PMGKAY.
This decrease is partly due to the removal of additional foodgrain allocations under PMGKAY and other pandemic relief measures.
The Changing Face Of PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY)
On March 26, 2020, after the nationwide lockdown was announced, the Government of India initiated the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), providing 5 kg of rice or wheat per person and 1 kg of preferred pulses per household, for free every month to 80 crore people. This was in addition to the regular quota of foodgrains given under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
NFSA legally entitles 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population to receive subsidised foodgrains under TPDS. Under the NFSA, there are two categories of people receiving subsidised grains:
- Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) which constitutes the poorest of the poor and are entitled to 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month
- Priority HouseHolds (PHH) identified by states, who are entitled to 5 kg per person, per month
Under NFSA, foodgrains are to be made available at a subsidised rate of Rs. 3 per kg for rice, Rs. 2 per kg for wheat, and Rs. 1 per kg for coarse grains to all AAY households and PHH.
Since March 2020, seven phases of the PMGKAY have been announced. For the 28 months that the PMGKAY was implemented, a total outlay of approximately Rs. 3.91 lakh crore was sanctioned for 1,118 lakh tons of allocated foodgrain.
However, in December 2022, before the end of phase-VII of PMGKAY, the Central government announced that it will provide free foodgrains to about 81.35 crore beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for one year from January 1.
What this essentially means is that NFSA beneficiaries will now receive foodgrains free of cost instead of purchasing them at a subsidised rate of Rs. 3 per kg, Rs. 2 per kg and Rs. 1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains respectively. Under PMGKAY, started during the COVID-19 pandemic, additional foodgrains were provided. Starting January 2023, no additional foodgrains will be provided to NFSA beneficiaries as part of COVID-19 relief measures.
Raj Shekhar, National Coordinator for the Right to Food campaign said,
The government has created a campaign around free foodgrains but it’s nothing except for the reduction in the allotment. Until December 2022, under PHH, each individual would get a 10kg ration per month – 5kg under NFSA at a subsidised rate and 5kg under PMGKAY for free. But, now, the ration entitlement is halved. The impact of it will be enormous on the general masses in the long run.
In an opinion piece authored by Dipa Sinha, Assistant Professor at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi, she wrote,
The existing benefits under the National Food Security Act continue and will now be given for free, but this does not compensate for the reduced quantity of grains. The PMGKAY played a critical role in preventing starvation during the pandemic and needed to be continued with the same quantity for longer.
What Budget 2023 Did To Food Subsidy
Despite the provision of free foodgrains under NFSA, the removal of pandemic-related allocations is estimated to save the government Rs. 94,332 crore, using FY 2021-22 figures.
Sachin Jain from the Right to Food Campaign believes that the central food subsidy should have been in accordance with the present population. He opines,
PMGKAY is not being seen from a humanitarian perspective. The benefits under PMGKAY should have continued that is the additional provision of 5 kg of cereals per person per month through the PMGKAY, introduced as part of the COVID-19 relief package in 2020. Discontinuation of benefits will impact people on a very large scale. NITI Aayog’s National Multidimensional Poverty Index shows that in some districts of Madhya Pradesh the poverty level is over 70 per cent. Poverty reinforces malnutrition.
Talking about some “basic elements” which should be included under NFSA, Mr Jain said,
Firstly, the NFSA should be universalised. Secondly, add pulses and edible oil to address the protein and fat requirements. Not taking into account these basic things show that we are not taking the issue of food security very sensitively as far as development policies are concerned.
Coverage OF NFSA
Commenting on the reduced central funding, Mr Jain said,
There are discrepancies in the law itself, particularly regarding population norm being in accordance with Census 2011 and that has not been revised. The government is reluctant to actually take the stock of its impact on people because almost 20 per cent population has already increased. More than 10 crore people are anyway out of the NFSA.
The budget brief prepared by Accountability Initiative states,
Using India’s current projected population of 137.4 crore for 2022, NFSA would need to cover 92.3 crore citizens. However, since 2016, after the inclusion of all states and UTs in NFSA, the gap in the percentage of eligible citizens and actual citizens covered has been increasing. This is because the Government of India does not update population figures and uses data from the Census 2011 to date. Thus, according to official Department of Food and Public Distribution data for 2022, 80 crore citizens were covered under NFSA as of November 2022, which accounts for 98 per cent of eligible households as per Census 2011.
But if we consider population growth and projecting population, coverage falls to 87 per cent of the eligible population, lower than the 92 per cent coverage in 2016. Therefore, 12.3 crore eligible citizens are being excluded under the current coverage.
The Budget 2023 was the “first budget of Amrit Kaal”. As per Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “The goal of ‘Amrit Kaal’ is to ascend to new heights of prosperity for India and the citizens of India.” As we work towards improving the lives of citizens and taking the country to new heights, we need to ensure that no one is left behind and deprived of food. As per the industry experts, it’s time the centre revises the population data and increases the coverage under NFSA.
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