The decision whether to continue the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, the emergency foodgrain scheme for the poor initiated during the Covid pandemic, beyond its sixth extension will be a “political” one as the economic rationale for the assistance – as well as its social utility – has declined sharply.
Last extended in March, the scheme will be up for a decision again at the end of the month. The view in government is that there is little justification of continuing with the 5 kg per person (target 80 crore population) over and above the highly subsidised rations of Rs 2-3 per kg under national food security scheme for public distribution system beneficiaries.
The high buffer stocks available at the start of the Covid pandemic in India in March, 2020, facilitated the launch of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana. Helped by Aadhar seeding of PDS, the scheme proved effective in delivering the additional food grain to beneficiary families, many of whom were hit by the economic shut down that followed the pandemic and the national lock down.
Moreover, the stock position for rice and wheat with the Food Corporation of India has been declining and a lower harvest of paddy is expected this season. Reports have suggested that the food grains supplied under the normal PDS and the PMGKY were now making their way back into the open market.
The decrease in food stocks makes the political decision tougher. The PMGKY was seen a reason for BJP’s success in the previous round of assembly elections in February, including the party’s win Uttar Pradesh. The BJP leaders made the assistance programmes an important element of the campaign, particularly in reaching out to women voters, saying kitchens had not run out of food despite the Covid crisis.
While the need for additional foodgrain assistance might have further declined as economic activity picks up and so is employment, it is a question of whether withdrawing the scheme will be seen an unpopular decision. There have been concerns over high inflation through the year and the impact on food prices, but the argument is that the foodgrain supply to PDS households is more than adequate.