Government

Food Ministry Denies Shortfall in Lockdown Ration Distribution, The Wire Responds

The Wire stands by its story in its entirety.

New Delhi: The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution’s (MCFPD) has responded to a recent story in The Wire titled ‘PM Garib Kalyan: 144 Million Ration Card Holders Not Provided Grain in May’ published on June 4.

The MCFPD ‘rebuttal’, issued as a press release, is titled ‘Department of Food & Public Distribution refutes a news report published in ‘The Wire’ regarding distribution of food grains & pulses’ and was published on the Press Information Bureau’s (PIB’s) website on Friday.

The Wire stands by his story in its entirety.

Over the course of the past two months, The Wire has tried repeatedly through email, text messages and calls to seek information from the MCFPD on the implementation of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, but no official response was received before this ‘rebuttal’. We had also sent an email with questions to the ministry before publication of this story, but no response was received.

Below is a point by point rebuttal of the ministry’s claims:

MCFPD 1: The article in the WIRE claims that 144 million people in April and 64.4 Million ration card holders in May have not received foodgrains under PM-GKAY.

Response:

The article states the opposite. That grain due in April has not reached 64.4 million ration card holders and grain due in May has not reached 144 million ration card holders. These facts were ascertained from data released by the Ministry of Finance through the PIB on June 3. According to the release, foodgrains under PMGKY had been distributed to 73.86 crore beneficiaries for the month of April and 65.85 crore beneficiaries for the month of May. We converted these figures to millions, i.e., 738.6 million and 658.5 million.

According to the National Food Security Portal, there are 803 million beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and thus 803 million people were eligible to receive the five kilograms of grain promised under the PMGKY both for the month of April and May.

Therefore, based on the information released by the ministry of finance through the PIB on June 3, 144.5 million eligible beneficiaries (803million – 658.5 million) have not yet received grain due in May and 64.4 million eligible beneficiaries (803 million – 738.6 million) have not received grain due in April.

MCFPD 2: The lifting and distribution of 120 LMT of foodgrains is ongoing. The FCI and agencies have maintained supply chain very efficiently even during complete lockdown. So far, nearly 103 LMT food-grain under PM-GKAY have been delivered to States/UTs which meant covering a total of 2060 million people over a three month cycle ie 680 million in a month.The balance population would get covered during distribution in June.FCI has transported 1.72 LMT foodgrain on an average per day in April and in May this is 1.29LMT and in June so far it is 1.39 LMT per day.

Response: The article has not claimed that the lifting and distribution of foodgrains is not ongoing. In fact, it mentioned “The information shared by the Centre also notes that 101 lakh tonnes of grain has been lifted by states. So, states have only distributed about 70% of the grain that they have lifted.” The June 3 PIB press release had mentioned that states have so far lifted 101 lakh tonnes of grain.

MCFPD 3: On an average, the monthly lifting under regular NFSA is about 95% which means that there are nearly 6 Crore people who may be outside the State and can avail the facility of portability under One Nation One Ration Card, which is currently operational in 20 States/UTs. However, this depends on the state govt. As far as Central govt is concerned sufficient stocks have been made made available in all states.

Response: It is not clear how point 3 is connected to our article. Does it mean that the Centre is saying that there are six crore fewer beneficiaries under the NFSA?

Also read: ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ Could Have Changed How the Pandemic Affected Migrants

MCFPD 4: 11 States are distributing foodgrains in one-go for upto two or three months quota to beneficiaries to avoid multiple trips to Fair Price Shops. In some States due to ongoing distribution cycles for NFSA, the distribution under PMGKY scheme shall be done thereafter to manage the supply chain and ensure timely distribution when earlier stocks are consumed, while observing Social Distancing norms.

Response 4: This could be one of the reasons for why some states have fared so poorly in the month of April (for which state-level data was shared by minister for consumer affairs, food and public distribution Ram Vilas Paswan last month). However, since then state-level data has not been made available by the ministry. We have sent numerous emails, messages and made calls to request for state level data, and other information, but no response from the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution has been forthcoming before this ‘rebuttal’.

We welcome this effort from the ministry to communicate and hope that the data that we have requested is provided soon which will help us report a more nuanced and complete picture of the status of public distribution during this crucial time.

MCFPD 5: States have also been given foodgrains assistance of about 13 LMT catering to about 13 crore persons through liberalised open market sales (OMSS) to cover the non-NFSA State ration card holders/NGOs during the months of April and May 2020.

Response 5: Through open market sales (OMSS) the Centre has been selling foodgrains to NGOs and states at Rs 21 per kilogram for wheat and Rs 22 per kilogram for rice. Several states and NGOs have been providing grain to those in need regardless of whether they hold ration cards or not.

The Wire’s article has not mentioned anything about the OMSS. In public interest, we ask the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution (as we have done in the past) to release state-level data on what quantities have been sold and how much money has been recovered from states. We also request for the same data to be provided with respect to NGOs.

MCFPD 6: In addition to this, free foodgrains distribution to nearly 8 Crore migrants is also being done under Atma Nirbhar Bharat scheme and currently 10 Lakh migrants have been provided free foodgrains and the distribution is progressing to cover migrants, stranded migrants, migrants in transit and migrants in quarantine centres.

Response 6: Once again we appreciate that the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution has put out data, for the first time, on the status of the promise made by the finance minister on May 14 when she said that eight crore migrant workers will be provided five kg rice or wheat and one kg channa for the next two months free of charge.

Now, through the information provided here, the ministry has said that the benefit of the finance minister’s announcement has only reached 10 lakh migrants, or 1.25% of eight crore who were supposed to benefit, nearly three weeks after the announcement was made. This is new information put in the public domain for the first time by the ministry.

Also read: In Jharkhand, a Mockery of ‘Right to Food’ as Lockdown Relief Measures Fail to Deliver

MCFPD 7: So far, about 74 Crore out of 80 Crore beneficiaries have obtained the benefit under PM-GKAY, while distribution process in some States is operational for the month of April and more beneficiaries may get covered..

Response 7: As per the June 3 press release of PIB, which our story is based on, 73.86 crore (or 738.6 million) had received the additional grain due to them under PMGKY for the month of April, more than a month after April ended.

MCFPD 8: While it is claimed that 200 million people are left out in April in the initial part of the article, the latter part of the article mentions that it is only about 64 million in April which is contradictory and highlights lack of understanding of complex and varying distribution system in various states.

Response 8:This is the text of the relevant part of the article:  “The figures also show that 64.4 million ration card holders have still not received the grains that they should have in April. Last month, The Wire had reported that 200 million beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) who hold ration cards did not receive the additional 5 kilograms of grain that they were entitled to under the PMGKP in April.”

The article first mentions that as per the June 3 press release, 64.4 million ration card holders have not received grain that was due in April. The next sentence begins with ‘last month’. The Wire had reported on May 7, based on a May 6 ministry of finance press release through PIB, that 200 million ration card holders were not provided ration due to them under PMGKY in the month of April.

The situation at the end of April has been mentioned here to provide context to the reader and to also acknowledge that the ‘lifting and distribution of foodgrains is an ongoing exercise,” as the ‘rebuttal’ has eloquently described.

This, however, does not take away from the fact that 200 million ration card holders did not get their April entitlement in April and 64.4 million have still not received it, as per the June 3 press release.

MCFPD 9: For the month of May the distribution under PMGKAY has already touched 68 Crore people, while the article claims the figures of 65.5 Crore people, which is outdated. It means that the continuous distribution process has not been taken into account. It also implies that in coming days more people will get covered. DFPD is transparently putting data in public domain urging states to speed up and cover all entitled beneficiaries

Response 9: The figure ‘65.5 crore’ has not been mentioned anywhere in the article. The article does mention the figure of 658.5 million ration card holders who did not receive the grain due them in the month of May. This figure is based on the June 3 press release of the ministry of finance released through the PIB. The relevant part of the press release says, “32.92 LMT of food grains have been distributed, covering 65.85 crore beneficiaries.”

We took the liberty to convert crore to millions using the following method. Since 1 crore = 10 million, therefore 65.85 crore = 658.5 million (65.85 x 10).

It is possible that the data now reflects that 68 crore people have received the benefit that was due to them in May, as the ‘rebuttal’ claims. This would mean that 2.5 crore people got the grain in the one day that elapsed between the June 3 press release and the June 4 ‘rebuttal’.

Also read: Delhi’s Food Scheme for the Poor is Better on Paper than on the Ground

MCFPD 10: Coverage of people under NFSA (about 81.3 Crore) is based on statutory provisions and enumeration under 2011 Census. However, revision of coverage is linked to census of 2021 where numbers will be determined based on identified persons in each State/UT. However, states do run their own Ration Card Scheme to cover such population and today more than 6 crore State Ration Cards exist to cover over 25 crore additional population over and above NFSA.

Response 10: Since the ‘rebuttal’ says that there are 81.3 crore (or 813 million) beneficiaries under NFSA and hints that 25 crore state ration card holders also ought to benefit from PMGKP, our report may in fact have under reported the number of those who have not been provided grain in the months of April and May as we took the number of beneficiaries under NFSA as 803 million and did not consider the 250 million state ration card holders.

MCFPD 11: Hon’ble Minister of CA,F&PD has twice reviewed the distribution of foodgrains under NFSA and PM-GKAY with Hon’ble Food Ministers of all States/UTs on 13.04.2020 and 22.05.2020. Hon’ble Minister also urged to all States/UTs for expeditious distribution to migrants under Atma Nirbhar Bharat during the time of need.

Response 11: Nothing to the contrary has been claimed in our article.

MCFPD 12: Secretary (F&PD) has also reviewed the distribution of foodgrains under NFSA and PM-GKAY in all States/UTs on three occasions during April and May 2020. Further, daily monitoring of distribution under all schemes is being done by the Department and figures/data is being shared transparently.

Response 12: Nothing to the contrary has been claimed in our article.

MCFPD 13: As regards the distribution of Pulses under PMGKAY, NAFED, the agency responsible for its supply to the States and UTs, has clarified its role is limited to making the stock available at designated delivery locations given by State/UT governments. Once receipt of stock is acknowledged by the states/UTs, responsibility for further distribution lies with the state/UT machinery. State Governments are distributing the received pulses as per their distribution plans.

Response 13: The Wire’s article did not claim that NAFED is responsible for distribution of pulses.

MCFPD 14: As of now, around 88% of the pulses have been dispatched to 36 states and UTs. Dispatch for three months requirement has been completed in 26 states. 77% stock has been received by the states.

Response 14: Nothing to the contrary has been claimed in our article.

MCFPD 15: Under Atma Nirbhar Bharat scheme, 63% approx of Gram Whole has been dispatched to the states and 64% of total dispatch quantity has reportedly been received by the states. Dispatches to some of the consuming states were delayed for want of firm indent. Some states have changed the single delivery point to multiple locations whereas few states have revised their requirement. Dispatch plans were recalibration to accommodate such changes resulting in delay in dispatch. 

Response 15: Nothing to the contrary has been claimed in our article.

MCFPD 16: The total number of beneficiaries under the PMGKAY scheme announced by the Union Finance Minister under the scheme is 80 crores. This translates into 19.55 crore households, which was reported by the States/UTs. Therefore, the total monthly quantity to be distributed under the scheme is about 1.95 Lakh MT of Preferred pulses as against 2.36 Lakhs reported in the article, the NAFED has clarified.

Response 16: The finance minister had said that all NFSA beneficiaries will be entitled to benefits of the PMGKY. According to the national food security portal and the MCFPD’s food grain bulletin, there are 23.6 crore ration card holders in the country implying that 2.36 lakh tonnes of pulses are to be distributed every month to fulfil the promise of 1 kilogram of pulses per month to each ration card holding household.

We have previously also noted the discrepancy in NAFED’s calculations of the amount of pulses required every month and have, on several occasions, sought clarification. However, no response has been provided.

Does NAFED contradict the MCFPD and claim that there are 19.55 ration cards in India?