NEW DELHI: Citing improvement in the economic prospects and opening of the markets, the Cabinet has decided to do away with the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY).
However, keeping in mind the poor, the Government will continue to provide rations to the needy under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for free. The Centre will now bear the burden of around Rs 2 lakh crore for food security.
PMGKY, a scheme that ran between April 2020 and December 2022 (except for a short period in between), and provided additional allocation of foodgrain, absorbed the shock of the pandemic for the extreme poor and also brought in political dividends for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in many states that had elections this year, including Uttar Pradesh in particular.
While discontinuing the scheme, the Government has said that it will bear the expenses of foodgrains under the NFSA for 2023. In other words, ration cardholders can now avail 5 kg of wheat or rice per month for free rather than at a subsidised rate, while Antyodaya Anna Yojana cardholders will receive 35 kg of free foodgrains As the estimated number of 81.35 crore beneficiaries is still based on Census 2011 numbers and Public Distribution System entitlements have been limited to ration card holders and quotas framed by the Union Government, some States have gone on to expand benefits to others through the NFSA and other schemes.
By taking on the burden of the expenditure for this distribution, the Union Government, which has estimated an additional amount of Rs 2 lakh crore for the scheme, has provided limited but welcome relief in monetary terms for States. While the expenditure numbers on food distribution and subsidy provisions seem fiscally expensive, the schemes have provided distress relief to the most needy, helped the Government control its food buffer stocks better, and also reduced wastage of procured foodgrains at a time when procurement figures for rice and wheat by the Food Corporation of India remain high. The PDS and the PMGKY have not only enabled basic food security but have also acted as income transfers for the poor by allowing them to buy other commodities that they could not have afforded if not for the benefits.