March 21, 2023

General Studies Paper 2


The Cabinet has announced that under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), 810 million National Food Security Act (NFSA) beneficiaries will receive five kilos of free foodgrains every month in 2023.

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKY):

  • PMGKAY was part of the Centre’s initial COVID-19 relief
  • Its nodal Ministry is the Ministry of Finance.
  • Beneficiaries under National Food Security Act:
  • It provides for 5 kg of rice or wheat per person per month to be distributed free of cost
  • This is over and above the 5 kg already provided to ration card holders at a subsidized rate
  • 35 kg per month per family for AAY(Antyodaya Anna Yojana) and 5 kg per month per person for Priority Households(PHH).
  • The 80 crore cap on NFSA beneficiaries and state ration card quotas are based on 2011 census data.
  • Initially: One kg of pulses was also provided under the scheme, which was later restricted to chana dal only, and then discontinued in later phases.

Issue related to it:

  • A family of five can collect 25 kg for free: This is a reduction by half of the 50 kg of rice (25 kg free under the earlier PMGKAY and 25 kg at ₹3 under the NFSA).
  • The repeated extensions, for 28 months, seemed to be with an eye on State elections.
  • The latest readjustment: It seems politically motivated to appeal to voters in nine States that go to polls in 2023.

Flaws in the scheme:

  • Ration records have not been updated since the 2011 Census — as per estimates
  • More than 40% of India’s population is currently excluded from both the NFSA and PMGKAY.
  • In many villages and slums, the most marginalized castes and communities, especially migrants, sex workers, the homeless and transgender persons are often without NFSA ration cards.

Steps taken:

  • Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal have either universalised or substantially expanded coverage with State cards.
  • The Supreme Court of India: It directs the central government to expand NFSA coverage.

Were all poor people covered under the scheme?

  • Ration card: The scheme only provided grain for those families who held ration cards.
  • In May and June 2020, the Centre allocated foodgrains to be distributed by States under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat scheme for stranded migrants and others without ration cards.
  • DBT: The PMGKAY covers even Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) beneficiaries.

Arguments for continuation of scheme:

  • Pandemic still exists
  • Unemployment remains at record levels
  • Hunger: There is widespread hunger among vulnerable communities.

Way Forward

  • Squeezing the 100 days of work guaranteed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA): This employer of the last resort scheme is being systematically undermined by acute Budget cuts, delayed payments and technological hurdles.
  • Study of scheme: The central authorities should commission a study and make its findings public. Just as it did in the initial months of the pandemic.
  • It should be the basis for updating the database of foodgrain-drawing card holders, scrutinizing the data critically and zeroing in on the needy.
  • Need to go beyond the mandate of the NFSA: as is being done under the PMGKAY, the government can supply the foodgrains at a reasonable price.
  • Rules on quota: To keep the budgetary allocation under control, rules on quota for rice or wheat can be changed suitably.

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

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