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West Bengal: Lower Foodgrain Allocation by Centre Under PMGKAY Hurting the Poor

The Union Cabinet had extended the 5kg free foodgrain scheme till March 2022, but ration shop owners claim the allocation has been drastically cut.
pds food

Kolkata: In a matter of deep concern in West Bengal, the Public Distribution System (PDS) allocation of foodgrains by the Centre has gradually been reduced for all categories of beneficiaries in the past four months, causing hardship for consumers.  The shortfall has been particularly marked as the Central government has reportedly cut its allocation for National Food Security Act (NFSA) beneficiaries under the PMGKAY.

Biswambhar Basu, national general secretary, of All India Fair Price Shop Owners Association, told NewsClick  that the  Central government’s allocation of grains has reduced drastically in the state, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  declaration of extension of the scheme (Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana) till March 2022.

Under the fifth phase of PMGKAY, from December 2021 to March 2022, the Centre was supposed to give an estimated subsidy of Rs 53,345 crore, with a total outgo of 163 lakh tonnes of grain, according to an official statement. 

However, Basu alleged that contrary to the announcement made by the Union cabinet in November 2021, that 5kg foodgrain (rice and wheat) per person, per month will continue till March 2022, the allocation by the Centre in January (a total of 6908.2325 tonnes of rice and 7151.3825mt wheat per month) for the state government was lower

After protests by the state government and All India Fair Price Shop Owners Association, this allocation has been partially restored in for February and March, the last two months under the programme, he added.

Meanwhile, there are reports of trouble brewing between ration card owners and dealers in both rural and urban areas.  A fair price shop owner, who requested anonymity, alleged that he was being “harassed by consumers” who were peeved after not getting the stipulated allocation of PDS foodgrains.

As per a state government order dated February 2, the allocation of rice in urban areas was 561 tonnes less. In the same way, for March, in urban areas covered under the PMGKAY, there is a requirement for 9,400 tonnes of wheat, which has been reduced by 550 tonnes.

The lower foodgrain allocation from the Centre is resulting in reduction of foodgrain distribution to all three categories of beneficiaries in the state – the state’s Annapurna scheme, the PHH (priority households ) and SPHH+ (state priority household) .

According Basu, the reduced allocation from the Centre began in December last, with about 7,000 tonnes of rice allocated under PMGKAY, which is a “drastically” reduced amount for four months. In case of wheat, Bengal will receive  7,151 tonnes less per month  for four months as compared to the amount it received in April to November 2021.

At present, about 16 lakh families are covered under the  Annapurna scheme in the state, while the number of PHH and SPHH+ beneficiaries stands at 5 crore and 46 lakh, respectively. In urban areas, there are 71,000 Annapurna beneficiaries, while in the rural Bengal, 15 l akh 65, 000 families are covered under the scheme. 

In rural areas, 5 crore 16 lakh families are covered under food security schemes, all of whom are set to receive less ration in March.

As per estimates by Basu, in rural areas rice allocation is expected to be 6,346 tonne lower, while wheat allocation is likely to be lower about 6,600 tonne in March, the last month under the scheme.

One reason for the cut in allocation has been attributed to the Centre being miffed by the lack of POS (point of sale) machine use by fair price shop owners in the state, said a dealer. While shops in the state continue to use the hand-to-hand route in supplying rations, the Central government has been insisting on the use of POS machines -- the digital route -- which the state government has not been enforcing.

While this is prima facie a reason for reduced allocation of foodgrain under PDS by the Centre, some consumers on the ground smell a deeper conspiracy to lower the number of ration card holders in the state.

Sources in the state food department, requesting anonymity, claimed that a circular has been issued to different area rationing offices to eliminate 3% of the population in different districts from the rationing system. They alleged that as a result, frivolous reasons like thumb impression not matching, are being used to withhold rations of daily wage earners.  Sources also claimed that until January 31 this year, a total of 31 lakh ration cards have been cancelled after giving such “frivolous excuses”.

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