The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government is supplying food kits and distributing social security pension as celebrations for the harvest festival of Onam, which falls on August 21, have already started.
Despite the Opposition’s criticism of these measures in the light of the daily spike in Covid cases, the Pinarayi Vijayan government has insisted that the health system is responding adequately and it stands by its commitment to ensure that no one remains hungry or destitute.
Onam special food kits
Kerala was the first state to announce free ration for all and distribute food kits during the pandemic last year. In fact, chief minister Vijayan had announced free supply of food grains to everybody and food for Anganwadi children at their homes on 19 March, before the nationwide lockdown.
Once the lockdown was enforced, Kerala started large-scale programmes besides the provision of monthly ration and grocery kits, including community kitchens supplying free meals and Janakeeya Hotels (People’s Restaurants) providing subsidised ones.
The state government continued the welfare measures post-lockdown. A total of 76,53,728 meals were made at the 1,323 community kitchens set up across the state with the help of Kudumbashree workers and local self-government institutions and 75,51,860 meals were delivered to homes.
Though the Opposition tried to block the monthly distribution of food kits during the election campaign by arguing that it was intended to influence voters, the previous LDF government insisted that it was part of its efforts to ensure that people did not starve during the pandemic. Congress leaders have ridiculed the current measure by referring to the CM as Pachari Vijayan (raw rice Vijayan).
Despite the opposition ridicule and criticism, Kerala has managed to avoid hunger and food insecurity plaguing several other states due to the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown.
The distribution of Onam special food kits, which will cost Rs 526 crore to the state exchequer, was launched by minister for food and civil supplies GR Anil on July 31 at a ration outlet in Edapazhanji, Thiruvananthapuram.
Each kit consists of 1 kg sugar, 500 ml coconut oil, 500 gm green gram, 250 gm toor dal, 100 gm tea, 100 gm chilly powder, 100 gm turmeric powder, 1 kg salt, 180 gm of vermicelli, 180 gm of palada (milk and rice pudding), 500 gm raw rice, 50 gm cashew nuts, 20 gm cardamom, 50 ml ghee, 100 gm sarkaravaratti (jaggery-coated banana chips), 1 kg wheat flour and one soap. The cost borne by the government comes to Rs 526 crore.
So far, around half of the 90.96 lakh ration cardholders have received the kits with the distribution taking longer than expected as a result of disruption in procurement.
The government has gone all out to ensure that the food kits reach everyone. Measures have been taken to provide the kits directly to around 1 lakh Adivasis through mobile ration shops. The civil supplies department is also distributing kits directly to old-age homes, orphanages and mental health facilities.
Besides, the food kits will be distributed to children as ‘food security allowance’ till schools reopen, benefitting 27,52,919 students availing mid-day meals and differently abled children studying in 43 special schools.
These food kits have also indirectly benefited the 238 Kudumbashree units providing jaggery-coated banana chips with more than 27.55 lakh orders amounting to more than Rs 8 crore. Kudumbashree units are also making cloth bags for these kits. The units also sell products, including organic vegetables, at Onam Trade Fairs. Around 1,050 such fairs are expected to be held, generating crores in revenue for these micro-enterprises.
The decision to include cardamom in the food kits has helped increase the price of the spice, which has been welcomed by crisis-hit farmers in high-range areas.
Advance social security and welfare pension
The previous LDF government had increased the monthly welfare pension from Rs 600 to Rs 1,200 in the first three years of its rule. During the pandemic, the amount was further increased to Rs 1,500 and then to Rs 1,600 when the interim Budget was presented.
Over the entire five-year period, social security pensioners in the state increased by more than 30 per cent and the amount distributed due to the threefold increase in the pension amount rose from Rs 9,011 crore to Rs 32,034 crore.
The current government started distributing social security and welfare pension for the months of July and August together on 5 August to make sure that people have more cash during the festive period. The government is also providing Onam support of Rs 1,000 to families who are not eligible for social security and welfare pension schemes and fall in the Below Poverty Line or Antyodaya Anna Yojana category. The government has set aside Rs 147.83 crore for 14,78,238 such families.
Cashew workers affected by the closure of their factories will be given Rs 2,000 and 10 kg of rice at Rs 25 each. Workers who have completed, at least, 75 days of work under the employment guarantee scheme will get Rs 1,000 each.