New Delhi: The Centre on Thursday approved a proposal to sell pulses at discounted rates to state governments, under the public distribution system (PDS) and the mid-day meal scheme for school children.

With the first-of-its-kind move, the government is expecting to clear the 3.5 million tonnes of stock procured during the past one year, and improve nutritional indicators for poor households.

Central agencies will sell tur, chana, moong, masoor and urad at a discount of 15 per kg over prevailing wholesale prices. The sale will continue for the next one year and will be a one-time measure to clear the stock for about 5,237 crore, the cabinet said.

The government’s decision on pulses follows consecutive years of record production of pulses. In 2017-18, pulse output grew to a record 24.5 million tonnes, and as farm gate prices fell sharply the Centre stepped in to procure pulses at minimum support prices from farmers.

“This is a pro-poor decision. We intend to give nutritional strength to the poor people. Pulses are generally out of reach of the poor because of high prices. Since pulses have high protein content in them, they will help in improving the health status of the poor," said Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister of law and justice and electronics and information technology.

Mint had reported last month that the government is weighing the proposal to offer pulses under welfare schemes to clear stocks.

In 2017-18, central agencies had procured over 4.5 million tonnes of pulses, the highest ever.

“Pulses play an important part in human nutrition as they provide high protein and fibre. Pulses are also a significant source of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium. Pulses should ideally be part of a healthy and balanced diet as they also prevent from major diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart ailments," said Reeti Kapoor, senior dietician, Venkateshwar Hospital.

Nearly every third child in India is undernourished: Underweight (35.7%), or stunted (38.4%), and 21% of children under-five years are wasted as per National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16. Also, protein energy malnutrition (PEM) is a major public health problem in India.

PEM is measured in terms of underweight (low weight for age), stunting (low height for age) and wasting (low weight for height).

In another major decision, the cabinet committee on economic affairs approved the next phase of the government’s flagship rural roads programme at an estimated coast of 84,934 crore. The scheme aims to improve connectivity across areas controlled by left wing extremists by March 2022.

Improvement of rural connectivity has been one of the priority areas of successive governments as it helps linking rural populations to markets, hospitals and educational institutions. It also means better movement for security forces in Maoist insurgency prone regions, said one person familiar with the development, requesting anonymity.

Separately, the government said that the next phase of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) will connect 38,412 habitations with a population of 100-249 people by March 2020.

Population clusters with more than 250 people will be covered by March 2019, it added.

Under phase one of the PMGSY, road connectivity for 95% habitations or 1,69,415 population clusters have been sanctioned. Out of this, 91% habitations or 1,54,257 clusters have been connected, including 16,380 habitations connected by the states from their own resources. Against the sanctioned length of 6,58,143 kilometres, some 5,50,601 kilometers of road length has been completed, the statement said.

“Under, PMGSY-II, against the target length of 50,000 km works of upgradation almost 32,100 km road length have been sanctioned in 13 States, which have transited to PMGSY-II. Against the sanctions issued, 12,000 km road length has been completed up to March, 2018," the statement said.

Neetu Chandra Sharma and Elizabeth Roche contributed to this story.

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