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A volunteer distributes food packets and water bottles among migrants travelling in a train to reach their native places, during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, in Jabalpur (PTI)
A volunteer distributes food packets and water bottles among migrants travelling in a train to reach their native places, during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, in Jabalpur (PTI)

States’ record uneven in ensuring food during lockdown

Only a handful of states ensured complete and consistent distribution of additional foodgrains under the lockdown food security scheme in April and May

On 26 March, the Centre announced additional food supplies for two-thirds of the Indian population as part of its first lockdown package. The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) would support families until at least June, by tapping into the network of ‘fair-price shops’ under the already-existing public distribution system. But two months into the scheme, data shows only a handful of states have met the distribution targets.

The scheme was announced on the second day of the nationwide restrictions to stop the coronavirus. It entitles the 774 million beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) to an additional 5 kg of foodgrains and 1 kg of pulses per month in April, May and June. Foodgrain allocation is done by the Centre’s Food Corporation of India, while states are responsible for the procurement and distribution.

Government data for April and May shows the distribution of these additional foodgrains has been uneven across states, potentially risking food security at this time of crisis. Most states have struggled to meet targets, with Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat being prominent laggards. Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan are three states that have ensured close to complete and consistent distribution.

The new scheme rides on the PDS, a targeted welfare scheme that reaches two kinds of households. The first comprises 204 million ‘priority households’, with each individual entitled to 5 kg subsidized wheat or rice at 3 per kg. The second is 23 million Antyodaya Anna Yojana households, who are the most vulnerable and get 35 kg foodgrains per month per family.

The PMGKAY covers both categories. The Centre’s stated objective for PMGKAY was to double foodgrain distribution under the PDS between April and June. But this did not happen in April, the first full-lockdown month: 4.25 million metric tonnes (MT) was distributed under the regular PDS, but only 2.61 MT under PMGKAY. The doubling nearly happened in May, but this was when the regular PDS distribution was lower than usual. A further increase under PMGKAY is likely in June as states try to make up for the shortfalls of these two months.

Under PMGKAY, all states have been allocated foodgrains for three months—15 kg per beneficiary. By May-end, 16 states and Union territories had procured more than 90% of their respective three-month quota. The higher this number, the better it is, as it means the state has stock to distribute.

But states have struggled on the distribution side. For timely food for each beneficiary, a state must distribute around 33.3% of its quota each month. Chhattisgarh happens to be the only state that met this optimal figure in both months. Ten states reported distribution of over 30% in both months.

States are following different distribution approaches. If Chhattisgarh presents consistency, Karnataka and Jharkhand took a lump sum approach, distributing two months of stock in May. Worryingly, there are 16 states and UTs whose total distribution in these two months is below 60%, against the optimal 66.6%.

The Centre, in a rebuttal to a news report, has attributed the PMGKAY distribution deficits to logistical and strategic reasons. The government said that while some states may distribute two to three months’ quota in one go, others are balancing PMGKAY distribution along with PDS stocks to manage the supply chain and respect physical-distancing norms.

The numbers for June will show if that was indeed the case. Demand is not an issue. If anything, it would be more in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar following the massive reverse migration.

However, many of these returnees might be outside the purview of the NFSA, which was formulated in 2013 using Census 2011 data. In a recent study, researchers Jean Dreze, Reetika Khera and Meghana Mungikar used 2020 population projections to estimate that still using Census 2011 population data excludes 108 million eligible Indians from the purview of NFSA—and, by extension, PMGKAY. This exclusion was the highest in UP and Bihar, possibly due to the exclusion of some of those who migrated.

Several states are seeing an increase in demand for new ration cards, which are essential to access PDS. Factoring in PMGKAY, a five-member household would spend 75 a month for 50 kg of foodgrains (25 kg at 3 per kg and 25 kg free), which would otherwise cost them upwards of 1,000 in the open market. With incomes likely to remain stressed for a significant period, subsidized foodgrains will be a lifeline for poor households. Continuing PMGKAY beyond June, with wider scope, and ensuring optimal distribution becomes an imperative.

www.howindialives.com is a database and search engine for public data


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