The Centre provides rice at Rs 3 per kg and wheat at Rs 2 per kg to 81.35 crore eligible Indians under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). Each member of a poor family is entitled to 5 kg of foodgrains every month. The poorest families, covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, get 35 kg of foodgrains each per month. The decision not to charge even the highly subsidised rates for a year from January comes with the announcement of discontinuation of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana from December 31. Under this scheme, which was launched in April 2020 amid the Covid pandemic, 5 kg of free foodgrains was provided to every person on top of the NFSA entitlement. The welfare programme was extended several times, the latest being in September, when the government added another three months, possibly keeping in mind the crucial state elections.
The move to provide free grains under the food law is likely to soften to an extent the blow suffered by the poor on account of disbanding of the Garib Kalyan Yojana. The safety net remains, but has been trimmed. Fiscal pressures and tight supplies globally have likely played a part. The discontinued food programme had been popular for helping absorb the pandemic shock, but it increased the need for an abundant supply of cheap grains. This year, India has had to restrict exports after an erratic weather-hit harvest and the upheaval in global agricultural markets owing to the Russia-Ukraine war.
75 per cent of the rural populace. The high number of beneficiaries is a reality check on the plight of millions in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Unemployment remains the most pressing concern. As fiscal prudence guides policy-makers, the government needs to keep exploring fresh interventions so that the benefits of a booming India reach the last mile.