While 33 states/UTs have rolled out the National Food Security Act, the Centre is planning to extend its scope by making available foodgrain completely free of cost to the country’s 12 crore “poorest of the poor.”
A scheme will likely be announced on May 26 to mark the second anniversary of the NDA government, official sources told FE.
The poorest 2.5 crore households now get 35 kg each of highly subsidised foodgrain — rice, wheat and coarse cereals — a month, under the so-called Antoydaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
This is even as under NFSA, 5 kg each of these grains are being given at the same prices to 70 crore identified beneficiaries on a monthly basis.
Under the food security law—a product of the previous UPA government—grains are being sold to the beneficiaries at the following prices: Rs 3/kg for rice, Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 1/kg for coarse cereals.
It is estimated that annual additional subsidy outgo for providing free foodgrain under the new scheme would be in the Rs 3,000-4,000 crore range.
Sources said the new scheme for the poorest section of the population could be named after a Hindutva ideologue.
While the NDA government can take credit for rolling out the NFSA and undertaking the reforms in the public distribution system (PDS), including complete digitisation of ration cards and seeding of half of these cards with Aadhaar, it is believed that it is largely deprived of the political capital from this.
“State governments, which implement the NFSA, showcase it as their own scheme while the cost is fully borne by the Centre,” a source said, requesting anonymity.
There are, of course, 13 states which give subsidies additional to what the Centre doles out under the NFSA, including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and Karnataka.
Food minister Ram Vilas Paswan has recently said in Parliament that state governments like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have contributed nothing to implement the NFSA and yet try to claim credit for the scheme.
In the Union budget FY17, Rs 1.34 lakh crore has been allocated as food subsidy while as per a revised estimate for the last fiscal, the government had incurred a food subsidy of Rs 1.39 lakh crore.
Under the new scheme, SCs, STs and OBC students residing in hostels and charitable institutions will also be entitled to get free foodgrain.