Saddled with bulging grain stocks in its warehouses, the Central government should allocate additional quantities of grains to Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) beneficiaries and priority households under the National Food Security Act along with giving them three months’ ration in advance to clear space, the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) said in its latest report.
The Commission, which released its 2021-22 kharif price projections, said in its non-price recommendations for the government that old foodgrains stocks lying with the government should be diverted for ethanol production and feed purposes.
“The foodgrains management calls for a well-thought policy framework to manage higher production, procurement, and resultant stocks, thereby, shifting policy narrative from food production to food management,” the CACP said.
Its recommendations are not mandatory for the government to follow and are advisory in nature.
The Centre at present gives 35 kilograms of foodgrains per month per family to almost 30 million poorest of the poor Antodaya Anna Yojana ration card holders. In addition, it also gives 5 kilograms of grains per month per person to individuals covered under the Priority Households category.
Both the categories get the grains at a highly subsidised rate of Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 1 per kg for coarse cereals under the National Food Security Act.
Several civil society organizations and others have been demanding the Centre to increase the quantity of grains that is distributed through the ration shops and also universalize the coverage in view of the rising food stocks and also to ensure greater numbers of people are benefited during the Covid pandemic.
Food stocks in Central government warehouses as on May 1, 2021 was in excess of 100 million tonnes (this included 17.6 million tonnes of unmilled rice).
The Centre recently expanded the third tranche of free additional foodgrains distribution to all NFSA ration card holders till November 2021.
Initially, the scheme was started in April 2020 during the lockdown. Under the scheme, the Centre distributes 5 kilograms of either wheat or rice extra to all the 80 crore NFSA beneficiaries over and above their usual monthly entitlement.
This was again re-started in May 2021 due to the second wave of COVID-19. The Centre had distributed almost 32 million tonnes of grains extra for free in the first two tranches of PMGKAY and plans to distribute another 28 million tonnes extra in the latest tranche. This is in addition to its annual distribution of around 52-55 million tonnes of wheat and rice through PDS at cheap rates.
Meanwhile, the CACP has also reiterated its earlier recommendation to review the Open-Ended procurement policy for wheat and rice and wants the Centre to rake a policy decision to procure only from small and marginal farmers, who constitute 86 per cent of total operational holdings, and a fixed quantity from farmers having more than two-hectare farm size.
It said, efforts should also be made to strengthen procurement operations in other major rice producing States like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, etc. to meet at least the State requirements under NFSA and other welfare Schemes.
The Commission also came down heavily on the flagship Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay SanraksHan Abhiyan (PM-AASHA) scheme under which Centre intervenes in the market to purchase oilseeds and pulses from farmers in the event of the price fall. The CACP termed the scheme’s performance as far from satisfactory.
It said the allocation for PM-AASHA has significantly declined from Rs 1,500 crore in 2019-20 to Rs 400 crore in 2021-22, while expenditure under the Scheme has been extremely low.
“The Commission feels that the Scheme has great potential of benefiting the farmers but there is an urgent need to review PM-AASHA and address implementation issues,” the report said.
It advocated that a Committee composed of representatives from Central and State Governments and private sector should be constituted to review the Scheme and recommend changes to make it effective.
It also wanted that maize should be included under PM-ASHA.