Prime minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced the extension of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana till the end of November. He also says economic activities in the country will be increased further while observing all precautions to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. He further said that schemes focused on agriculture, economically weaker sections of society and rural areas will aid in employment generating during the monsoon and thereafter. Besides, the PM pointed out, the country will continue with its efforts for import substitution and will become even more 'Vocal for Local'.
In his address to the nation, the PM emphasized that provision of food to those in need during lockdown has been the foremost priority of the country. As soon as lockdown was announced, the government brought about PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, under which a package of Rs1.75 lakh crore for the poor was announced.
PM Modi observed that the enormity of the decision to provide free ration for three months to more than 80 crore people i.e. providing 5 kg free rice or wheat to each member of the family, along with providing 1kg pulses to each family, per month, has made the entire world take notice. The number of people who were provided free ration is several times the population of many large countries, he said.
The prime minister noted that with the commencement of the rainy season, most of the work takes place in the agriculture sector. Also, several festivals take place one after the other, including Guru Purnima, Rakshabandhan, Shri Krishna Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Onam, Dussehra, Deepawali, Chhath Puja, among others.
He says, "Keeping in mind that requirements as well as expenditure increase during this time, the government has decided to extend PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana till Deepawali and Chhath Puja, ie the scheme will continue to remain applicable from July till the end of November. During this five-month period, more than 80 crore people will be provided 5 kg free wheat/rice per month. Along with providing 5kg free rice or wheat to each member of a family, 1 kg free whole chana will also be provided to each family per month."
According to economist and social scientist Reetika Khera extending the doubling of food entitlements for those who are covered by the National Food Security Act (NFSA) is a very welcome move, a big relief, especially given the rising food stocks situation. "Also, inclusion and continuation of 1 kg dal is good. This should be made a permanent entitlement," she says.
The government will spend more than Rs90,000 crore towards the extension of the scheme, the prime minister said, adding that if the amount spent towards it in the previous three months is added together, a total of almost Rs1.5 lakh crore would be spent towards the scheme. He credited and thanked the hard-working farmers and honest tax payers for making it possible for the government to procure and distribute free food grains.
Ms Khera, who is associate professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM Ahmedabad), says that there is a need to go beyond the NFSA mandate. She feels, many gig economy workers, street vemdors, auto and taxi drivers, who otherwise managed on their own are in need of support right now and our foodstocks allow us to expand the public distribution system (PDS).
She says, "The finance minister had announced that 8 crore migrants will be added to the PDS food safety net for two months. We do not know the status of this and in any case they should be added permanently in order for us to meet our legal obligations under the NFSA, which mandates coverage of 67% of the population and 81 crore is about 60% only."
PM Modi also underlined that the country is moving towards the institution of ‘one nation, one ration card’, which will be of immense benefit to the poor who travel to other states in search of work.
Staying Safe during Unlock 2
Prime minister Modi also noted that the shift of the fight against coronavirus to Unlock 2 coincides with the weather which results in several ailments. He asked everyone to take care of their health.
He says he observed that due to timely decisions like lockdown, it has been possible to save the lives of lakhs of people and the death rate in the country is amongst the lowest in the world. "However, irresponsible and negligent behaviour has been on the rise during Unlock 1. Earlier people were more careful about usage of mask, washing hands for more than 20 seconds several times during the day and maintaining ‘do gazdoori’. When more being more careful is necessary, rise of negligence is a cause of concern," Mr Modi added.
According to the PM, regulations need to be followed with the same seriousness as during Lockdown, especially in the Containment Zones. He exhorted people to spread awareness amongst those not following such rules and regulations, giving example of the prime minister of a country being fined Rs13000 for not wearing mask in a public place.
Mr Modi says, "Local administration in India will need to act with same alacrity, since no one, including the prime minister, is above the rule of law."
In the coming times, the prime minister says government will continue to take further steps to empower the poor and the needy. Economic activities will also be enhanced, with due precautions in place. He reiterated the pledge to work towards Atmanirbhar Bharat and to be vocal for local, while also asking people to be careful, use mask or face cover and continue following the mantra of maintaining ‘do gaz doori’.