Prodded by the Supreme Court, the Centre will soon frame a national level scheme to provide cooked food to the poor and destitute at Rs 10/plate, sources told FE.
The Centre will likely seek about six months from the Supreme Court to hold consultations with state governments (some of which already run similar schemes), urban and rural local bodies and civil society on the contours of the scheme. Issues such as how the cost will be shared between the Centre and states, contributions from local bodies, corporates via their corporate social responsibility funds, etc, would be discussed soon, sources said. The grains will be made available from the Food Corporation of India.
“After the contours are finalised, department of food will issues guidelines for implementation of the scheme,” an official aware of the matter told FE.
On November 16, the court had expressed its displeasure over the lack of progress in framing a scheme to run community kitchens to provide affordable meals to the needy. It had said that matter would be heard again in three weeks from then.
The cost of the running the scheme at the national level will be worked out after consultations with the various stakeholders, another official said.
Tamil Nadu has been providing cooked food at nominal rates (idly for Rs 1, pongal for Rs 5) since 2013 under the Amma Unavagam scheme. The scheme inspired Odisha to launch a similar scheme in 2015 to provide cooked meals at Rs 5 per plate at many places in the state.
Karnataka followed suit with its Indira Canteen scheme, which offers breakfast for Rs 5 and lunch and dinner for Rs 10/plate. Kerala also runs a successful “community kitchen” scheme in all its 14 districts, to provide highly subsidised cooked food.
A national scheme on this will take the proposition to every part of the country, at a much bigger scale.
The scheme will add to the Centre’s burgeoning expenses on food subsidy. On November 24, the Centre has decided to continue with the free ration scheme — Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) — till the end of the current fiscal. It will require an additional Rs 55,304 crore to run the scheme through March, taking its total budgetary cost in FY22 to a considerable sum of Rs 1.47 lakh crore. The free grains scheme will take the food subsidies, including those covered under the National Food Securities Act, to about Rs 3.3 lakh crore in FY22. The food subsidy spend in FY21 was `5.25 lakh crore, including Rs 1.34 lakh crore for the free grains scheme and clearance of the subsidy arrears.