On June 8, ‘journalist’ Tavleen Singh published a tweet expressing her confusion over the number of people going to be benefitted under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY). She said, “The Prime Minister’s decision to give 80 crore Indians free food grain till November is puzzling. Are there that many Indians now below the poverty line?”
From her tweet, it can be assumed that she thinks only those families that are below the poverty line are eligible to get subsidised or free ration. If that had been the case, as per the Tendulkar Committee approach, only 21.92% population would have been eligible for receiving ration at a subsidized price. Interestingly, the so-called journalist and her fellow intellectuals seem to be unaware of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and PMGKAY.
Understanding NFSA and PMGKAY
To understand how the government of India claimed that 80 crore people will be benefitted from the extension of the PMGKAY scheme, it is essential to learn about NFSA first. According to the National Food Security Act, all people, at all times, should get access to basic food for their active and healthy life.
It has to be noted that the Constitution of India does not have any explicit provision for the right to food. However, the Fundamental Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution may be interpreted to include the right to live with human dignity that may further have the right to food and basic necessities.
The act was enacted on September 10, 2013. It enables the government to provide for food and nutritional security in the human life cycle approach by ensuring access to an adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected in addition to that or incidental thereto.
According to NFSA’s website, out of maximum coverage of 81.34 crore persons, around 80 crore persons have been covered under NFSA at present for receiving highly subsidised foodgrains. It is implemented in all states and UTs. Notably, the states and UTs identify the beneficiaries continuously. It not only covers the inclusion of the persons on account of birth as also that of genuine left-out households but also the exclusion of ineligible/fake/duplicate ration cards and also exclusion on account of death, migration etc.
Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rule, 2015
During the initial years, it was noted that in some cases, the beneficiaries were not able to get the subsidised foodgrains. To tackle the non-availability of food grain, the government of India notified the Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rule, 2015. Under the said rule, “In case of non-supply of the entitled quantities of foodgrains or meals to entitled persons under NFSA, such persons shall be entitled to receive such food security allowance from the concerned State Government to be paid to each person, within such time and manner as may be prescribed by the Central Government.”
Classification of Ration Cards
There are different types of ration cards under NFSA and the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). It is the responsibility of the state governments to categorise an issue different ration cards based on the categories stated under NFSA and TPDS. There are two types of ration cards for all the states in the country under NFSA.
Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY)
The persons who do not have a stable income are eligible for this card. It covers unemployed people, women and old aged people. The cardholders under this category are eligible to receive 35 KG of food grain per month per family. They get the food grains at a subsidised price of Rs.3/kg for rice, Rs.2/kg for wheat and Rs.1/kg for coarse grains.
Priority Household (PHH)
The second category is PHH. Under this category, the cardholders will receive 5 KG of food grain per person per month. They get the food grains at a subsidised price of Rs.3/kg for rice, Rs.2/kg for wheat and Rs.1/kg for coarse grains.
Ration Cards Under TPDS
The states that have not introduced NFSA yet issue ration cards under the old scheme. Different cards issued under TPDS are as follows.
Below Poverty Line (BPL)
The families that are considered BPL families are eligible to receive 10 KG to 20 KG food grains per family per month at 50% of the economic cost. The items that are subsidised under the scheme vary from state to state and may include wheat, rice, sugar and other items.
Above Poverty Line (APL)
These families are eligible to get 10kg to 20kg food grains per family per month at 100% of the economic cost decided by the state government. The states decided on the retail price for rice, wheat, sugar and other essential items.
Annapoorna Yojana (AY)
These cards are for people who are poor and above 65 years of age. They are eligible to get 10 KG of food grains per month.
Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY)
All the ration card holders under NFSA are eligible to receive ration under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY). The initiative was introduced in April 2020 to provide relief to the ration cardholders during the pandemic lockdown. Notably, due to the lockdown, several families lost their jobs and businesses, and it affected a large portion of the population.
To ensure every citizen has access to the food grains, the government of India announce the scheme and allocated 5 KG of food grains per person per month at zero cost. As mentioned above, there are over 20 crore ration cardholder families in India and assuming each family has four members, the scheme benefitted close to 80 crore people covered under National Food Security Act, 2013. Notably, this allocation is over and above NFSA foodgrains.
Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and Priority Householders (PHH) are covered under the scheme. They are being provided with an additional quote of free-of-cost food grains, i.e. wheat and rice, at 5 KG per person per month over the entitled quota under NFSA.
As per reports, under PMGKAY-I (April-June 2020) and PMGKAY-II (July-November 2020), the government of India, through the Food Corporation of India, supplied 305 LMT foodgrains to the respective State/UT governments.
Distribution of food grains in India
According to the data provided by the Department of Food and Public Distribution, 43 LMT foodgrains were allocated to the states, out of which they distributed close to 38 LMT in the month of May 2021. In June 2021, the union government has allotted 43 LMT food grains to the states and UTs, out of which 7.4 LMT has already been distributed. So far, 3.46 crore transactions have taken place across India to date. PMGKAY has been extended by the union government till Diwali 2021.