Weighing in on PMGKAY, the free grains scheme

Source– The post is based on the article “Weighing in on PMGKAY, the free grains scheme” published in The Hindu on 18th November 2022.

Syllabus: GS2- Welfare Schemes

Relevance: Implementation of schemes

News- The article explains the issue related to welfare schemes.

What are the provisions of PMGKAY?

It is aimed at providing an additional allocation of foodgrains (rice or wheat) from the central pool at five kilograms per person per month free of cost.

The PMGKAY benefits cardholders of the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and Priority Households (PHH) categories, both falling under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). This is over and above the regular monthly quota under the NFSA, i.e., 35 kg per month per family for AAY and 5 kg per month per person for PHH.

The PMGKAY covers even Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) beneficiaries.

What are the reasons for extending this scheme?

The extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), a scheme to distribute free foodgrains to the poor, for another three months, comes as a surprise for many reasons.

First, in the months prior to the latest extension made in late September 2022, there was much debate on the relevance of freebies.

Second, there were reports in June that the Expenditure Department at the Centre did not favour it, citing a funds crunch.

It also held the view that such a scheme was no longer needed “in non-pandemic times”.

However,this has to be viewed in the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, raging since February 2022, and its adverse impact on the world’s food and energy sectors.

Government’s reason was that it wanted to support the poor and the vulnerable, estimated to be 80 crore during the festive season.

Critics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party point out that the scheme’s extension is with an eye on the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, respectively.

What are the achievements associated with this scheme?

Policymakers and experts concede that the scheme made a difference to food security and public health during the pandemic.

From the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food and Public Distribution or the authors of an IMF-published working paper, “Pandemic, Poverty, and Inequality: Evidence from India” the scheme has received commendation.

What is the way forward?

The central authorities should commission a study and make its findings public.

To keep the budgetary allocation under control, rules on quota for rice or wheat can be changed suitably.

The central and State authorities need to ponder over the scheme’s continuance, given the chronic problem of diversion from the Public Distribution System (PDS).

The proposed study should be the basis for updating the database of foodgrain,drawing card holders, scrutinising the data critically and zeroing in on the needy.

The task should not be onerous, given the widespread application of technological tools in the PDS .

The culture of providing essential commodities free of cost at the drop of a hat has to go.

The elimination of the problem of diversion of foodgrains has to be taken up with renewed vigour as farmers toil hard in the fields to produce the grains and many deserving persons remain outside the food security net.

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