In a key measure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced that free ration being distributed to about 80 crore people in the country would be extended by another five months—till the festive season gets over in November. The scheme was originally announced on March 26, within two days of nationwide lockdown, for three months and was about to end on June 30.
The extension of five months came after assessing the ground situation arising out of the spread of coronavirus pandemic and its likely impact on the livelihoods of the poor. The economic activity is picking up, yet the migrants, the workers and the poor continue to bear the brunt. Moreover, during the monsoon, there will be restricted economic activities.
As the scheme has been extended till November end, it covers all the major festivals till Chhath Puja, a key festival of the Biharis, which falls on November 20. PM Modi's message will reach the state which is going to polls in October-November. Bihar is also one of the most affected states by the return of the migrants. The government expects that barring a few, most migrants may not return to their places of work till Chhath Puja.
“There are many activities in agriculture during and after the rainy season. Other sectors do not have much activities. July also marks beginning of the festive season. Fifth July is Guru Purnima, then the month of Saawan is starting. Then 15th August is coming; Raksha Bandhan, Sri Krishna Janmashtami,Ganesh Chaturthi and Onam will follow. Further, Kati Bihu, Navratri, Durga Puja are coming, then Dussera, Diwali and Chhath. This festive season increases necessities as well as expenditure. Keeping all these things in mind, it has been decided to extend Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana up to Diwali and Chhath Puja, till November-end,” Modi said in his brief speech.
The scheme gives free ration to 80 crore people for another five months. Every member of the family will get five kilogram of wheat or rice. Also, every family will get one kilogram whole chana per month, free of cost. Modi said over Rs 90,000 crore will be spent on the extension of PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana. “If we add expenditure of the last three months on this scheme, then it comes to around 1.5 lakh crore rupees.”
Modi's address to the nation usually comes with a lot of anticipation about the message he would give. There were speculations on whether he would talk about China or COVID-19.
He started his speech reminding people that negligence was also on the rise since the lockdown was lifted as people were not following social distancing or properly wearing masks.
“We have seen that since 'Unlock-1', there has been increasing negligence in personal and social behaviour. Earlier, we were very careful with respect to wearing of masks, social distancing and washing of hands for 20 seconds. But today, when we need to be more careful, increasing negligence is a cause of worry,” Modi said, asking the states to strictly enforce the social distancing and mask protocol.
“Those not following the rules will need to be stopped and cautioned. You must have seen in the news, the prime minister of a country was fined Rs 13,000 for not wearing a mask in public place. In India too, the local administration should work with the same enthusiasm. This is a drive to protect the lives of 130 crore countrymen. Be it a village pradhan or the prime minister, no one is above the law in India,” Modi said.
With the PM's message, the authorities are expected to step up penal provisions against those who do not use masks.
The second half of his speech was dedicated to talking about his government's pro-poor measures including free ration. “In the last three months, 20 crore poor households have received direct benefit transfers worth Rs. 31,000 crore. During this period, Rs. 18,000 crore have been deposited in bank accounts of over nine crore farmers. Simultaneously, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan was quickly launched for employment of Shramiks in rural areas. The government is spending Rs 50,000 crore on this,” the PM said.
He said that as over 80 crore people were given free ration for three months, it meant that over 2.5 times the population of the United States, 12 times the population of the United Kingdom and double the population of the European Union was given free ration by the government.
Modi credited the farmers and the honest tax payers for running of this scheme.