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PM Modi extends free ration scheme for poor till November amid COVID-19 crisis


NEW DELHI:  With full economic normalcy nowhere in sight, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced the extension of the free food grains programme till November. By November, the scheme would have run for eight months at a cost of `1.50 lakh crore and covered 80 crore people. The PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana provides 5 kg wheat/rice and 1 kg chana (chickpea) per month to each family free of cost. 

In his address to the nation, Modi also said the country is moving in the direction of “one nation, one ration card”. Curiously, the announcement came on a day when data released by the Controller General of Accounts showed an 8% drop in the government’s major subsidy bill as of May, when compared to the same time last year. The big plunge was in food (11%) and petroleum (18%) subsidy. 

Acknowledging the agrarian season and the onset of festivals, Modi reasoned that the expenditure of the people would also go up in the coming months. “Keeping in mind that requirement as well as expenditure increase during this time, the government has decided to extend PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana till Deepawali and Chhath Puja. The scheme will continue to remain applicable from July till the end of November,” he said. 

Chhath Puja is widely celebrated in Bihar and the adjoining districts in Uttar Pradesh. If the Bihar Assembly elections is held on time, it would see multiple phases of polling during October-November.

The Nitish Kumar government in the state has already claimed that more than 20 lakh migrants took special trains to return to their respective villages. Many of them could stay back due to the agrarian and festival season, and influence the state poll campaign as well. Nitish had sought extension of the free food grains scheme for a few more months.  

Modi also gave an account of the pro-poor measure taken by the government, which included transfer of Rs 31,000 crore to almost 20 crore poor families, Rs 18,000 crore to over nine crore farmers, besides `50,000 crore on providing rural jobs for returnee migrants. He also advised people to exercise caution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, while asking local authorities to take measures to ensure people do wear masks.

Worry over flouting norms
 “Ever since Unlock-1, there is increasing negligence in personal and social behaviour... Those not following rules need to be stopped & cautioned, be it a village pradhan or the PM,” Modi said