Inside India's historic effort to distribute food and fight hunger during Covid-19

India food

As the country remains under the grip of a national lockdown due to the growing numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has approved the expansion of India’s Public Distribution System (PDS), touted to be the world’s largest food security scheme.

The announcement, made by cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar, involves enhanced quantities of essential food grains such as wheat and rice at highly subsidized prices to ensure continuous supply for the country’s poor. Under this, the government which already sells wheat for Rs. 2 per kg instead of the market price of Rs. 27 and rice at Rs. 3 per kg instead of Rs. 37 in the market, will now provide an additional 2 kilograms of food grains per person per month on subsidized rates.

The minister added that the central government has asked all states to take required quantities of food grains from the central government in advance so it can be distributed to the public through the nation’s numerous ration shops. Emphasizing the role of state governments in implementing this decision, he asserted that all state governments must act in the true spirit of ‘cooperative federalism’ and ensure the timely and effective implementation of the decisions taken by the central government. He said that in the end, it is the state governments that are on-the-ground and thus their total cooperation will ensure the success of the central government’s decisions in these testing times.

This decision is historic not only because it effectively ensures food security for nearly 80 crore Indians, who depend on the PDS for their food rations but also comes at an unprecedented time for India- an ongoing national lockdown owing to the coronavirus outbreak.

With a large population living below the poverty line, the Indian government, under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) already provides 5 kg of food grains per person per month to eligible beneficiaries at highly subsidized rates. However, with the announcement of the 21-day countrywide lockdown, there were widespread concerns about the food security of particularly the poorer sections of society. Hence, the decision to expand the quantities of food supplies during these unusual times makes perfect sense.

 Moreover, there have been several reports describing how the state-run Food Corporation of India (FCI) has been saddled with enormous stocks of wheat and rice, with considerable stocks left in open spaces across the country. Keeping in mind that such food grains might be ruined or go waste during the upcoming monsoon season, the government has taken a timely and useful decision to use the surplus stocks to expand the PDS. This is even more crucial in times like these, when people are resorting to panic buying, hoarding and black marketing of essential commodities ever since movement restrictions across the country have taken effect.

With the central government continuously taking stock of the situation and making decisions according to the ever-evolving situation, it becomes the shared responsibility of every Indian to look out for their fellow citizens, not resort to unfair consumer practices, follow government guidelines diligently and emerge ever stronger out of this crisis.