The truism that ‘there’s no such thing as free lunch’ stands the test of time. Now that the BJP-led central government has announced the extension of the free food grains scheme – Pradhan Mantri-Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) – for another three months till December end, should we take it with a pinch of salt?
Gujarat isn’t benefitting a great deal from the scheme owing to the low number of beneficiaries. Secondly, the spiralling cost of food grains, especially during the festive season, means the middle-class will have to bear the brunt.
Let’s get the facts out of the way. The government provides free 5 kg food grains to each person per month to beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act (NFSA). It’s reported that a maximum of 81.35 crore people (67.21%) of the country’s 121.03 crore population can benefit from the scheme. And now, the caveat.
According to data available with the Food Grain Bulletin, reported by a certain section of the media, only 79.76 crore (98.05%) people have been identified as PM-GKAY beneficiaries. The report reveals a gap between the intended and identified NFSA beneficiaries of about 1.58 crore.
Of Gujarat’s 603.84 lakh population, 382.84 lakh people (63.40%) can be covered under the NFSA, who can also avail of the PM-GKAY benefits. However, till August 2022, only 345.15 lakh people (90.16%) have been marked as beneficiaries, lower than the national average of 98.05%. Essentially, every 10th intended NFSA beneficiary could miss out on the PM-GKAY scheme in Gujarat.
Let’s survey the scene in Himachal Pradesh. Technically, 36.82 lakh (53.70%) of the state’s 68.57 lakh population can be covered under the NFSA. However, only 28.64 lakh people (77.80%) have been identified as beneficiaries, which aren’t numbers to be excited about.
The timing of the extension can’t be missed – the announcement was made just ahead of the declaration of the schedule for the Assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
A business daily has alluded to rising wheat prices with the onset of Navratri. September witnessed a sharp increase in wheat prices, 3-4%, according to the report.
Lower wheat production owing to the recent heat and the government’s pledge to the PMGKAY scheme are depleting the country’s wheat reserves. Naturally, this will impact the forever-strained middle-class. Free lunch truly is wishful thinking.
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