“Going by the government’s scheme, PMGKAY is ending this December. But your son who has seen poverty, lived with it and came from amongst you (poor), has taken another decision. I have decided that the BJP government will extend the scheme to provide free foodgrain to 80 crore poor for the next five years.This is not a political promise, this is Modi’s guarantee,” the PM said during a poll rally in Durg in Chhattisgarh.
The announcement, which is expected to cost Rs 2 lakh crore in subsidy annually, lit up what is, from now on, going to be a busy election season, and is sure to whet the expectations about more such welfare measures in the lead-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha contest.
While there was possibility of the scheme being continued until mid-2024, its extension for another five years by a government, which has to seek renewal of its mandate in next few months, came as a surprise to many and is expected to help Modi fortify his “pro-poor” platform.
On the government’s focus to ensure that all beneficiaries of the world’s biggest food security programme get their entitlement, the PM also said that with ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ in place, those entitled to get the free 5kg foodgrain from any part of the country, including migrant workers from Chhattisgarh or any other part, can avail this anywhere. “Now go anywhere in India, you will show the ration card of Chhattisgarh, Modi’s guarantee card will not let you go hungry in any corner of India,” he said.
The PM recalled how the government launched PMGKAY to provide 5kg extra free foodgrain every month to 80 crore beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act during the Covid-19 pandemic to “not let any poor sleep hungry”. This free foodgrain was in addition to 5kg of grain at a highly subsidised rate of Rs 3 per kg and Rs 2 kg for rice and wheat, respectively.
Chhattisgarh Elections: ‘BJP Govt to extend free ration scheme for next 5 years,’ says PM Modi
Though it was initially meant for only three months, the government extended the scheme six times to provide the additional free foodgrain for 28 months. In December last year, the government announced amalgamation of PMGKAY scheme with NFSA and announced making the earlier highly subsidised foodgrain completely free for the poor.
The cabinet had approved the free foodgrain scheme for only one year (calendar year of 2023) and now the PM’s announcement puts to rest any speculation about the continuation of the scheme till 2028.
Under PMGKAY, the government’s annual expenditures on account of the food subsidy is estimated at Rs 2 lakh crore and this is likely to increase from the next financial year due to a corresponding increase in the economic cost of foodgrain management by the Food Corporation of India. The FCI’s economic costs include minimum support price to farmers, storage, transportation and other costs of rice and wheat.