New Delhi: Faced with the twin challenges of large public stocks of pulses and dismal nutritional indicators, the centre is considering a proposal to introduce pulses under the subsidised public distribution system (PDS).

The idea behind the scheme is driven by the fact that central agencies are saddled with 5.5 million tonnes of pulses following a record production last year.

The centre is considering a proposal to introduce pulses under PDS in 200 districts faring the worst on nutrition parameters, said an official aware of the development.

If indeed the government does implement the proposal, it could potentially net political gains to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA); especially since key state elections are due later this year and the next general election is less than a year away.

The plan is to provide about 70 million households in selected districts with 2 kg of pulses every month at prices which are at least 50% cheaper than the market, the official cited above said.

The scheme could cost the government an estimated 8,000 crore, about 2,000 crore more than the loss it would otherwise incur by selling a portion of the pulses stock in the open market, said another official who did not want to be named.

Following a record production of 24.5 million tonnes of pulses in 2017-18, government agencies procured a staggering 4.4 million tonnes of pulses from farmers at minimum support prices (MSP). In addition, the government also holds a buffer stock of 1.1 million. Together, the stocks with the government total nearly a quarter of the production last year.

For 2018-19, the government has budgeted 1.7 trillion for supplying highly subsidised rice and wheat to priority households under the National Food Security Act. Government data on nutritional indicators show that in India 38.4% of all children under five are stunted, or have lower height for their age. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, pulses are nutritional powerhouses loaded with protein and dietary fibre which can help address malnutrition problems in developing countries.

Farmers in irrigated areas currently stay away from pulses as there is no assured procurement at support prices; regular procurement of pulses for PDS may wean farmers away from water intensive crops like rice and wheat.

“In principle it will be a good move to introduce pulses under PDS but such a decision should not be an ad-hoc measure to dispose stocks... it has to be a well thought out and long-term commitment which allows for decentralised procurement and storage at the state level," said Pravesh Sharma, former head of Small Farmer’s Agribusiness Consortium, a specialised agency of the agriculture ministry.