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The Union government resumed the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), a free ration programme, on April 24 for the third time since 2020 to blunt distress caused by the pandemic, aiming to cover nearly 800 million people.
While the scheme reached its targeted population, according to three studies, it did have shortcomings. One study showed the scheme was unable to deliver the full quantum of benefits to a large section of the people.
Over 800 million beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act, who also routinely receive subsidised food grains, will get an additional 5kg of wheat or rice per person free during May and June 2021. The programme will cost the government ₹25,332 crore.
The government has said that it has been “highly successful” in implementing the PMGKAY. In a media presentation, the food ministry cited allocation and delivery figures to buttress its point.
During April-November 2020, the ministry said, 32.2 million tonnes of food grains were allocated under an earlier phase of PMGKAY, while 29.8 million tonnes were distributed, which is 93% of the allocation.
According to the food ministry, a survey conducted by Dalberg showed a “very high level of satisfaction among the beneficiaries”. The ministry called it an independent survey, although it was commissioned by the finance ministry.
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The government cited a second study by Microsave Consulting, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It was conducted in 88 districts and showed an “average of 94% households have received the free ration on monthly basis”.
A survey by the Centre of Sustainable Employment at the Azim Premji University, however, showed only 27% of the eligible households reported receiving the full benefits under the larger Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana.
According to Amit Basole, associate professor of economics, Azim Premji University, his survey found that overall, 68% of households did receive at least some extra grains. This number is way below the numbers cited in the other two studies.
According to Basole, several surveys have found persistent food insecurity. In an article published in the journal EPW in February 2021, Basole writes that as of November 2020, a “worrying 20% of households reported no improvement in food intake since the lockdown”.
The Hunger Watch survey conducted by the Right to Food Campaign covering 4,000 households in 11 states found “one in three respondents reporting members having to skip meals sometimes or often”.
“The Dalberg study was independent in the sense that the ministry of food was not involved and not informed about the study by the finance ministry,” Union food secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said.
Pandey said the Dalberg study’s sample size was nearly 50,000 households, which is “extensive”. This made it credible, he said. “The sample survey you mentioned didn’t even have 10% of the sample size of the Dalberg survey. Unless we go into sample details, it is difficult to compare the findings. Yet, we are open to independent analysis and learning the right lessons and sharing these with states,” he said.
Delhi is an instance where the PMGKAY has been delayed, said Aysha, a Right to Food activist said, who goes by one name. “We are shocked to note that despite the first week of May coming to an end, distribution has not started in any ration shop of Delhi,” she said.
“A key issue is that the beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act are based on the last census. The number of food-insecure people has increased since then and they remain uncovered. The beneficiary list cannot be expanded unless we hold the next census. One way out is to universalize the PDS,” said RS Mani, an economist who was formerly with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.