Did PM Modi lie in Chhattisgarh? Or is a clumsy attempt being made to bail him out?
Has the ‘free ration’ scheme been extended up to 2028 as was announced by PM Modi? A curious press release posted by the PIB after campaigning ended in MP and Chhattisgarh raises doubts
Campaigning for elections in the states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh came to an end on Wednesday 15 November, with polling to elect new assemblies scheduled for tomorrow, 17 November.
Minutes after the campaign came to a close, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) posted a curious statement from the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution; at 6.12 pm to be precise, on 15 November.
“The Central Government…is providing food grains free of cost to Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households and Priority Households (PHH) beneficiaries under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), for a period of one year beginning from 1st January 2023…,” the press release read.
Why did the PIB think it fit to remind people of a scheme which has been in operation for the last 11 months? And that too barely a month before the scheme is apparently going to end? Is it meant to serve as a reminder?
A bewildered MP wondered aloud why the release made “absolutely no reference to the extension announced by the prime minister. So, what is really happening? Why is the PM’s announcement not reflected in his government’s press note?"
It was, after all, while addressing an election rally on 4 November in Chhattisgarh that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the ‘free ration’ scheme to approximately 800 million (80 crore) Indians was being extended up to 2028.
The announcement duly made headlines and the enormity of the decision drowned the voices that questioned its propriety and timing. It was a brazen violation of the model code of conduct (MCC), under which enticements and allurements to voters by way of policies and projects cannot be held out while the MCC, which comes into effect with the election notification, remains in force.
The ministry’s statement posted by the PIB, however, has sown doubts about the announcement made by the PM. Is it possible that no such decision to extend the scheme up to 2028 has been taken by the cabinet? Is it possible that the PM made the announcement on his own and on the spur of the moment, that it is unlikely to be implemented?
Or is the PIB release a face-saving device to allow the PM, government and the Election Commission (EC) to gloss over the violation by the prime minister of the MCC with his inappropriate announcement? Because it could have been made as easily in the first week of December, once results of all five state elections are declared.
The PIB release cleverly makes no mention of the period, referring readers instead to a link that takes them to the statement by the ministry.
The PIB post reads, “Centre providing food grains free of cost to Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households and Priority Households (PHH) beneficiaries under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana. Government of India is bearing Food Subsidy for procuring, allocating, transporting and delivering the foodgrains till the designated depot in the States under PMGKAY”.
The ministry’s statement provides the details. “The Central Government, in order to remove the financial burden of the poor beneficiaries and to ensure nationwide uniformity and effective implementation of the National Food Security Act (2013), is providing food grains free of cost to Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households and Priority Households (PHH) beneficiaries under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), for a period of one year beginning from 1st January 2023,” it reads.
The ministry’s statement also acknowledges that the scheme is enabled by the National Food Security Act, 2013.
“The National Food Security Act, 2013 provides for coverage of up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population, which as per Census 2011 comes to 81.35 crore persons. The Coverage under the Act is substantially high to ensure that all the vulnerable and needy sections of the society get its benefit. At present, against the intended coverage of 81.35 crore, 80.48 crore beneficiaries are identified by the States/UTs under the Act for distribution of free foodgrains under the PMGKAY.”
Will the PIB clear the air?