In a move that could lessen the Centre's foodgrain procurement burden, it has allowed the Punjab government to purchase and distribute grains in advance to beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for the next few months.
As a result, 800,000-900,000 tonnes, mostly wheat, will not come to the Centre's pool for a while. Punjab is one of the main wheat and rice producers in the country.
It had already started purchasing and distributing grains in this manner in April, but was stopped by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
"For these months, Punjab has become a decentralised procurement state: One that purchases and distributes grains needed for PDS (public distribution system) and the Centre only foots the subsidy bill," said an official.
The move could help the Centre save on storage, transportation and distribution expenses.
The advance distribution will continue till November. Initially, it was planned that beneficiaries would get six months' foodgrains in one go, starting April. This would have been completed by September. But because of the objection from the ECI, the matter was deferred and would now get over by November.
The state government was also finding it difficult to arrange for bulk distribution because the Bureau of Indian Standards did not have the norms for 30-kg bags.
The state government has now decided to use the usual 50-kg bags.
Punjab is one of 11 states implementing the NFSA. Some others are Haryana, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Delhi. The remaining states are not expected to implement the Act anytime soon. The NFSA provides entitlement for cheap grains to 64 per cent of the Indian population. It promises five kg of wheat or rice or coarse cereals to every beneficiary at the rate of Rs 3 a kg for rice, Rs 2 a kg for wheat and Rs 1 a kg for coarse cereals.