New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s plans to ease the lockdown woes for poor families with food support is not proceeding as planned, with only 18 per cent of the beneficiaries receiving the pulses promised, ThePrint has learnt.
According to data from the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, many states are yet to receive a big chunk of the pulses they are supposed to distribute for free among nearly 20 crore targeted beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). In some states and union territories, the data suggests, the deficit extends up to 88 per cent for the first month of the scheme (until 25 April).
There are other problems too, including troubles faced arranging the different kind of pulses sought by the states and union territories — arhar/tur, chana, masur, etc — and transporting them amid the lockdown. Meanwhile, the lockdown has affected operations at mills where pulses are processed, further slowing the process.
Even so, a blame game seems to be under way between the central government and state administrations over who bears the responsibility for the delayed disbursal.
The PMGKY was launched on 26 March, a day after a nationwide lockdown took effect amid an unprecedented effort by the Modi government to check the spread of Covid-19.
The proposal included distributing 5 kg wheat or rice and 1 kg of preferred pulses for free, per month between April and June, among around 19.55 crore poor households.
The pulses were meant to aid the poor and the vulnerable, who were expected to be hit the hardest by the lockdown. The charge of distributing the pulses was assigned to the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED).
According to consumer affairs ministry data, the scheme envisaged a disbursal of 1.95 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) by 25 April.
Of this, 1.42 LMT was issued to states by 25 April, including raw pulses that hadn’t been processed by the mills.
However, only 35,100 metric tonnes (MT) had been disbursed by the states by that date — this constitutes 24.7 per cent of the amount they received, and 19 per cent of the planned allocation until 25 April.
For instance, Bihar and Jharkhand were to receive 16,885 MT and 5,711.60 MT, respectively, but had only got 2333.68 MT and 720.88 by 25 April, a deficit of 87 per cent and 88 per cent, respectively.
The government nominee in NAFED, Ashok Thakur, told ThePrint that the agency was “trying our best to supply the pulses as soon as we can”.
“NAFED has also issued raw and unmilled pulses directly to the states wherein mills are located within the state so that pulses can be processed and distributed quickly,” he added.
Asked about the vast deficit in allocation for Bihar and Jharkhand, he blamed the local governments. “Bihar and Jharkhand submitted the proposal of pulses and the variety required in the 2nd week of April… Bihar sent the requisition just for April and not for other months. This led to a delay in dispatch of pulses to these states,” he added.
However, an official from the Bihar civil and food supplies department lay the blame at the central government’s door.
“The consumer affairs ministry and NAFED only asked us the kind of dal we wanted for April, so we sent a proposal for arhar/tur accordingly, as soon as they asked for it,” the official said.
Different choices of pulses caused further delay
The fact that the PMGKY promises states their “preferred” pulses has also been a factor in the delay, officials in NAFED and the consumer affairs ministry said.
A consumer affairs ministry official told ThePrint that Jammu & Kashmir, for example, had sought chana, urad and moong dal for April, May and June, respectively, while Kerala had asked for chana dal in April and moong for the rest of the two months.
NAFED godowns around the country hold 22 lakh tonnes of pulses, of which 16 lakh tonnes are whole chana. This means fewer godowns to service demands for other kinds of pulses.
As a result, say officials, the disbursal involves assessing the availability of different pulses at godowns, and dispatching them accordingly. If the central government seeks to send processed pulses, there is the additional process of dispatching it to mills, which are working at half their capacity in keeping with the Ministry of Home Affairs’ lockdown guidelines.
Most of the pulses procured by NAFED come from states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra and the godowns are largely located in these states too.
Out of the 1,645 MT April allocation for Jammu & Kashmir, the union ministry has received only 66 per cent or 1098.5 MT so far, consumer affairs ministry data suggests.
Kerala, meanwhile, has received none of its April allocation of 3,738.17 MT.
There are other logistical difficulties faced by the mills on account of the lockdown, primarily shortage of labour and packaging material.
Also, nearly 90 per cent of dal mills across the country are privately run. For PMGKY, NAFED had to sign a contract with dal mills that had FSSAI certification, which has delayed the process.
Amid the lockdown, transportation has become a difficult prospect too.
Delhi alleges poor quality
Meanwhile, the Delhi government, in an order issued last week, suspended distribution of pulses under PMGKY over quality issues until further notice. According to the order issued by the Delhi government’s department of food supplies and consumer affairs, the quality of pulses had been taken up with the NAFED.
“The quality of pulses received under the scheme was substandard and unpolished, which prompted us to stop the distribution,” an official from the state said, adding that their poor quality ruled out the prospect of storage.
NAFED refused to comment on the charge.