In a significant move to address food security concerns, the Union Cabinet has given the nod to extend the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) for an additional five years, ensuring free food grains for approximately 81 crore impoverished individuals. The decision, announced by Union Minister Anurag Thakur on November 29, comes as a vital step to provide sustained relief to the vulnerable sections of society.
The PMGKAY, initiated in April 2020 amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, was initially slated for a three-month duration but was later extended due to its impactful reach. Under this scheme, destitute families receive 5 kg of food grains per month, offering a crucial lifeline during challenging times.
The extension, set to commence from January 1, 2024, will incur an estimated cost of Rs 11.8 lakh crore to the exchequer. Minister Thakur, during the Cabinet briefing, reassured that there would be no shortage of funds, dispelling concerns about inflated food subsidy bills. He emphasized that budget constraints are not a hurdle for the central government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hinted at this extension during an election rally in Chhattisgarh earlier this month. The move is aligned with the government’s commitment to prioritize the welfare of the underprivileged and ensure their basic needs are met.
The PMGKAY was incorporated into the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in December last year, extending its reach to cover up to 75 percent of rural and 50 percent of urban populations. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in the Budget 2023 announcements, had earmarked Rs 2 lakh crore for the entire year under this scheme.
This extension comes at a crucial juncture, offering relief to consumers amid concerns of limited decline in food inflation. Despite a recent drop in India’s headline retail inflation rate, the food inflation remained relatively stable, emphasizing the continued importance of schemes like PMGKAY.
As the central government takes proactive measures to ease price pressures, the extension of the free ration scheme is anticipated to have a limited impact on the fiscal deficit for FY24. The additional spending, estimated at Rs 15,000 crore for the three-month extension, is viewed as a necessary investment in the well-being of the nation’s most vulnerable.
In the pursuit of economic stability and social welfare, the government’s commitment to sustaining the PMGKAY reflects a strategic approach to address the immediate needs of the impoverished, contributing to a more inclusive and resilient society.