Govt opting for cash instead of food grains
The government has recently started providing cash instead of rice and wheat to implement its Test Relief and Food for Work programmes. According to food ministry sources, people who carry out tasks such as repairing roads, drains and culverts under the schemes will receive cash till the end of the current fiscal year. The state of draining out of food stock and slow public procurement of food grains are the reasons to take such safety measures. Thus, the government has planned to allocate 1,600 crore from the budget for this purpose.
The food ministry has said that an increase in distribution of cereal among those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and recurring floods also contributed to the drop in the stock. Additionally, depleting stocks and failure to procure sufficient quantity of paddy directly from growers have also forced the government to pay cash under the Test Relief and Food for Work programmes.
Undeniably, this initiative is admirable but it is not possible to repeatedly implement it whenever stocks are depleting. The experts are also appreciating the latest move as a significant amount of money and time is wasted on food storage and logistics for providing food grains under that programme which will not be wasted in cash assistance programme. However, the experts also pointed out that this could be a temporary solution and can't be a permanent one. Paying cash instead of food grains is a good approach, but there are some problems that might appear while executing the plan, such as mismanagement and misappropriation in the distribution chain.
On that note, the data from the Food Planning and Monitoring Unit of the food ministry says that the country's food reserve declined to 6.47 lakh tonnes last month, whereas in July last year, the government had a rice stock of 11.88 lakh tonnes. During the same period in 2019, the food department had a stock of 16.74 lakh tonnes of grains. This shortage in stocks has seriously put us into a worrying state and made us reflect on the reasons behind it. Moreover, inadequate food storage, if continues, can cause a serious crisis any time.
Even though the food secretary stated that the process of importing seven lakh tonnes of rice is underway, yet it's not reassuring enough. We are well aware about the syndicates where dubious traders have often cashed in on the situation and increased rice prices. The challenge now is to execute the plan properly without mismanagement. And for the upcoming imported rice, we need to monitor the traders as many of them may deliberately attempt to hike price.