Weighing in on PMGKAY, the free grains scheme

#GS-02 Social Security, GS-03 Public Distribution System

For Prelims:

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana scheme:

  • The scheme aimed at providing each person who is covered under the National Food Security Act 2013 with an additional 5 kg grains (wheat or rice) for free, in addition to the 5 kg of subsidised foodgrain already provided through the Public Distribution System (PDS).
  • Its nodal Ministry is the Ministry of Finance.
  • It was initially announced for a three-month period (April, May and June 2020), covering 80 crore ration cardholders.
  • Later it was extended till September 2022.
  • It was again extended for another 3 months by the government.

For Mains

Why the scheme should end:

  • The rising debate on the relevance of freebies and its impact on government exchequer.
  • The Expenditure Department at the Centre did not favour it, citing a funds crunch.
  • There is also a view saying that such a scheme was no longer needed “in non-pandemic times”.

Why the Scheme was continued:

  • Government has declared that it wanted to support the poor and the vulnerable during the festival season between October and December.
  • Policymakers and experts concede that the scheme made a difference to food security and public health during the pandemic.
  • Both the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food and Public Distribution and the authors of an IMF-published working paper, “Pandemic, Poverty, and Inequality: Evidence from India” (April 2022), commended the scheme.
  • The working paper concluded that “the social safety net provided by the expansion of India’s food subsidy program absorbed a major part of the pandemic shock.”

What can be done:

  • To keep the budgetary allocation under control, rules on quota for rice or wheat can be changed suitably.
  • There needs to be a transparency study which will be responsible for updating the database of foodgrain-drawing card holders, scrutinising the data critically and zeroing in on the needy.
  • Using this database, the Centre and States can decide whether the size of the PHHs — nearly 71 crores — can be pruned or not.
  • In addition, if they feel the need to go beyond the mandate of the NFSA, as is being done under the PMGKAY, they can supply the foodgrains at a reasonable price.

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