"We will give cash": Karnataka govt checkmates Centre's refusal to give rice

Determined to ensure rollout of the Anna Bhagya scheme on 1 July as promised, the Congress decided to give BPL citizens cash at the FCI rate for the grain

What price broken rice? Representative image of a handful of rice grains (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
What price broken rice? Representative image of a handful of rice grains (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Naheed Ataulla

Determined to implement its poll promise of giving 10 kg of rice per person to Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration card holders in the state under the Anna Bhagya Scheme, the Karnataka cabinet on Wednesday, 28 June, decided to give cash instead of 5 kg of rice until the state government can procure it  from various sources.

The money will be transferred to BPL card holders accounts directly. The sum is to be calculated according to the price set for rice by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) — Rs 170 for 5 kg of rice per month. This amount will cost the state government Rs 750 to Rs 800 crore per month.

Food and civil supplies minister K.H. Muniyappa said,  “Since the date for launching Anna Bhagya has arrived (July 1) and we had given [our] word, the cabinet decided that till the time the rice is supplied, we will give money at the rate of Rs 34 per kg, which is the Food Corporation of India (FCI) rate, to the (BPL) ration card holders."

A single person listed on the beneficiary card will get Rs 170 a month. A two-person household will entitle the holder to Rs 340. If there are five members, then they will get Rs 850 a month.

Speaking to reporters after the cabinet meeting, law minister H.K, Patil said that this is a temporary measure. "The Centre has cheated us," he said.  

"From the money transferred, people can buy any food grain they want," Patil continued, noting that this was temporary measure, and not being offered as a permanent solution. "We have got suggestions to float a tender to procure rice," he added.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah said, “The Centre is not ready to give us rice even though we are ready to give the market price. The Centre is trying to stop our scheme, which will affect the poor. We will give money instead of rice. If there are four people in the BPL family, we will give Rs 170 × 4 to them,” Siddaramaiah said.

One of the five poll guarantees of the Congress, the Anna Bhagya scheme of giving 10 kg of rice per person every month hit a roadblock when the FCI stated it had discontinued sale of rice from to states under the Open Market Supply Scheme (Domestic) per the latest Central government directive.

Out of the 10 kg of rice announced by Congress in its state assembly election manifesto, 5 kg comes from the Centre, and the state had planned to procure the rest of the rice from FCI. However, after the withdrawal of the OMSS (D), the Karnataka government could not do it before its own stipulated deadline.

As the 'rice politics' between the Centre and the state came to a boil, Siddaramaiah and Muniyappa explored other avenues by tapping the rice surplus-states of Telangana, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and  Andhra Pradesh — but could not agree terms and make arrangements in time. Not all states were equally responsive either

Speaking to the media in New Delhi on June 22, after meeting Union home minister Amit Shah over the issue, Siddaramaiah said that procuring rice from other states was also proving expensive due to transportation costs. 

"From Andhra Pradesh, it will cost Rs 42 per kg of rice. Telangana said only paddy is available, not rice. [The] Chhattisgarh CM told me they are in a position to supply 1 lakh metric tonne of rice only for one month. The Punjab CM said he will discuss with officials and get back," Siddaramaiah said.

The Karnataka wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, was accusing the state government of going back on its promise of giving 10 kg of rice to BPL citizens, and threatening to stage a dharna from 4 July under former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa's leadership.

This despite Union food minister Piyush Goyal of the BJP declining his state counterpart Muniyappa's request as recently as June 23, citing lack of stocks — when compared to the required buffer stock of 135 lakh tonnes of rice, the central pool currently has 262 lakh tonnes.

This despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also of the BJP, taunting the Congress leadership during the state assembly polls about their 'freebies' aka "rewdi culture".

Apparently, once defeated, the freebies became a legitimate demand for the BJP.

Copy of the FCI order of June 13 to discontinue sale of wheat and rice to state governments under the OMSS (D)
Copy of the FCI order of June 13 to discontinue sale of wheat and rice to state governments under the OMSS (D)

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