The Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) has been extended for five more months, till November-end, on June 30, 2020.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his government would continue to provide free foodgrain to 800 million people till November 30.
The government was providing 5 kilograms (kg) of wheat or rice per person and one kg pulses per family per month, under the scheme. It was first announced post-lockdown for three months — April, May, and June. June 30 was the last day under it.
Modi said the government would spend Rs 90,000 crore towards the extension of the scheme. If the amount spent on it in the previous three months was added, a total of almost Rs 1.5 lakh crore would be spent towards the scheme, he noted.
Experts and activists have welcomed the announcement as free or subsidised ration was one relief measures that was actually reaching the vulnerable population, at least those having ration cards.
“It is a good decision at a time when the crisis clearly continues. Ground reports suggest ration is something that is actually reaching people,” Dipa Sinha, who teaches at Ambedkar University, Delhi, said.
However, the problem of exclusions still remains.
“We had raised this issue in March too and have been demanding the universalisation of the scheme since it was announced. It still applies to people with ration cards and it should be expanded to all, migrants and homeless included, irrespective of cards,” Sinha said.
She added there were people in normal times who did not need subsidised ration but needed it now because of the loss of livelihoods.
There is no doubt that the announcement is a relief for the most vulnerable sections who were dependent on ration provided under the scheme for the last three months.
However, there is also no denying that there are exclusion errors due to which eligible people have been left out.
Outdated data and other lacunae kept many from benefitting from the public distribution system (PDS) during the countrywide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a recent report claimed.
Earlier surveys have also pointed out that at least two-thirds of migrant workers are not receiving government ration.
“Implementation on the ground is still a challenge. Extension is a welcome move as vulnerability is still high but implementing it universally continues to be a struggle,” Sakina Dhorajiwala, researcher with LibTech India, said.
Dhorajiwala had volunteered with Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN), a group of researchers bringing to light the troubles of migrant workers across the country post-lockdown.
In May, the government had announced free food grain supply to migrant workers not under the purview of the PDS. It had asked states to identify such workers.
Since then, there has been no uniform policy or clarity on how states are actually doing this.
“According to the reports we are getting from some states, this still remains a challenge. Some states are doing it based on requests for help received by migrant workers on online portals or helplines,” Dhorajiwala said. She added that logistical issues were emerging and hence, there had been exclusions.
The prime minister also talked about moving towards ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’, that would benefit poor migrant workers who travel to other states in search of work. But by the government’s own admission, the project would only be completed by 2021.
One important part of the overall relief package announced in March to help the poor tide over the lockdown crisis was financial assistance given to different sections: To women Jan Dhan bank account holders each month for three months, front loading of money to farmers under PM-KISAN scheme, assistance to construction workers and to senior citizens, widows, and differently-abled people.
This assistance was also being provided for three months (till June) and there is no clarity whether this will be extended or not.
“By extending ration supply, the government is recognising that the crisis is going to continue much longer than what they had anticipated earlier,” Ranu Bhogal, director of policy, research and campaigns at Oxfam, said.
“We have been pushing that the amount given in Jan Dhan accounts or to construction workers and other vulnerable sections needs to increase and it needs to be extended for at least next six months,” Bhogal added.
The number of people who need this financial assistance is huge, considering the people working in the informal sector have lost their livelihood and there are urban poor who need cash in their hands, she noted.
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