In a major relief to the poor amid this devastating Covid- 19 pandemic, Prime Minster Narendra Modi announced on Monday, 7th June, that the government has extended the PMGKAY scheme to distribute wheat and rice free of cost to about 80 crore people till November this year. Earlier in the month of April, the central government had announced distribution of free food grains for the months of May and June under the PMGKAY (Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana) to help people during the second wave of the pandemic.
After the outbreak of Covid -19 pandemic last year in March 2020, the PMGKAY was launched to support vulnerable sections of society. It was implemented during April to November last year. This scheme was reintroduced for the month of May and June this year to deal with the impact of the second wave of the pandemic and the estimated cost for these two months was about 25,000 crore rupees, which will now increase significantly with the extension made till November.
Last year when the first wave struck the country we saw a huge migration from cities as there was a nationwide lockdown. This time there was no nationwide lockdown but there were restrictions imposed by state governments. There were many localised restrictions, so again the challenges in terms of employment and providing food for families arose, which is why this decision was taken when it was seen that the second wave was really intensifying from April. At least the food part had been taken care of for the vulnerable sections. It’s with the same aim that the Prime Minster announced extension till November. It was a much needed measure and the government has taken the right decision. What is happening in the second wave is massive job losses once again because of lockdown and also because of disruption in the economy. Covid- 19 has reached villages where more than 60 percent of the household incomes come from non-farm activities, which have been affected severely. That has led to declining purchasing power of households and people who were otherwise secure when it comes to the purchase of food grains from the market are no longer so and are facing a problem of access to food grains.
By extending this scheme and to include in it 80 crore people is a great decision because it is also overcoming the problem of targeted PDS (Public Distribution System). Once you have a targeted PDS system there is a lot of scope of exclusion of people who are otherwise eligible. Especially in these circumstances when you have an extraordinary situation where around six to seven crore people have been estimated to have been fallen below the poverty line and also around three crore people are being said to be no longer in the middle-class category. We can no longer go by the old definitions of who are eligible for food grain transfer. By extending the scheme to a large number of people we have to a great extent overcome the error which was always there.
The other point is that even in the urban areas you have a large migrant population. Lots of people have left the cities in the last two months but still there is a significant migrant population in these cities and they also need food support because they are not growing their food and have almost no income. Because of the lockdown, especially in the construction sector which is one of the largest employers in the country, there is a severe crisis.
But the problem that state governments are facing in implementing this scheme is the lack of a proper database. There is no NPR (National Population Register) or NRC (National Register of Citizens) in this country yet. We don’t know how many people are concentrated in certain areas because of migration. Hopefully the state governments will now work towards addressing this issue so as to implement this scheme in the way it is meant to.
Whosoever has their name on their ration card would now get 5kg of rice or wheat as per the allocation. If you don’t have ration card, you can go register for one and we know that the government has initiated the One Nation One Ration Card scheme. The aim is to ensure that nobody should go without food during this pandemic.
Ground-level workers such as PDS store keepers play a pivotal role in making food grains reach every corner of villages and cities. It’s a big challenge for store keepers to distribute food grains during this pandemic. I personally met with the store keeper at IM Pora center in Redwani Zone, district Kulgam, Mohd Yousuf Dar, who said, “It is a big challenge for me to handle the crowds while distributing food grains among card holders in this pandemic. I keep open the shop for the whole day so that no one is left without food. It is my job and I always perform it as worship.”
The writer is a doctoral candidate at University of Kashmir. [email protected]