Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on the launch of the second phase of the Mukhya Mantri Annapurna Yojana, ahead of the Centre’s proposed food security legislation. Edited excerpts of an interview with Sanjay Jog:
What are the key features of the second phase of the Mukhya Mantri Annapurna Yojana (MAY), launched from this month?
How will the MAY differ from the Centre's Food Security Bill?
Ours goes further; food security will not be an issue. The Chhattisgarh government (also a Bharatiya Janata Party one) launched this for the first time with improved PDS distribution and a GPS-based monitoring network. We started this in 2008. Delhi moved only afterwards and their Bill hasn’t seen the light of day, while we have moved ahead. Even when the Centre’s Bill becomes a reality, it will be far short of what we are doing in MP today.
What was the experience of MAY’s first phase?
It got overwhelming response. We dovetailed the food coupon scheme with the Aadhaar project, the first such initiative in the country. You know there are two major issues involved in food security and distribution. The first is access to food, then availability. We have both. We covered all BPL ration card holders, numbering around 7.8 million.
What were the problems during implementation?
Implementation mechanisms at the grassroots always face multiple challenges. Lifting of foodgrains, distribution and operation of shops and counters under the PDS had some problems, which we overcame effectively.
What measures were adopted to curb loopholes or losses? What safeguards were incorporated?
I have asked commissioners and collectors to be extra cautious about the possible misuse. Poor families might be lured by middlemen at the local level to resort to hoarding and trading. I have asked the collectors to take care of such issues and devise suitable preventive measures.
In the wake of a dip in the production or procurement of wheat and rice, what are the steps proposed?
MP is a top-ranking state in terms of wheat production and procurement. Though Punjab is on top, we come second and have pushed Haryana to third position. We are the first state to have announced a bonus of Rs 100 a quintal on procurement of wheat at the minimum support price. This year, the bonus was increased to Rs 150 a qtl, and the farmers received money in their accounts directly. The system of e-procurement of wheat adopted in MP inspired many states. All these measures are designed to ensure handsome remunerative prices to farmers. If they get higher prices in the open market, they are free to sell their produce. Due to increase in storing capacity, many farmers stored their produce, expecting even higher rates. We have more than enough foodgrain.
Opposition parties say this is a gimmick to lure voters ahead of the coming assembly elections.
Financial discipline has enabled the state to spend for welfare of the people. There is no gimmick, just performance of my duty as chief minister. I have always held that serving the poor is the noblest deed. If opposition views this as a gimmick, how can they expect to get the people’s mandate, ever? My immediate concern is to bring more and more relief to my people. They have expectations, which must be answered befittingly.