The launch of the Anna Bhagya scheme that aims to provide 10kg of free rice to the poor in Karnataka is staring at a delay after the Union government refused to supply additional rice to the Congress-ruled state despite several requests and meetings in Delhi.
One of the five guarantees in the Congress election manifesto, the state had scheduled to launch the scheme on July 1. While the state has at its disposal 2.17 lakh metric tonnes meant for the regular supply of 5kg of free rice per head each month, an additional 2.28 lakh metric tonnes are needed to meet the revised requirement of 4.45 lakh metric tonnes.
But the Union government has outright rejected the state’s request for the additional 2.28 lakh tonnes of rice.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah met Union home minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on Wednesday and sought his help to convince the food minister to release additional quantities of rice. Karnataka food and civil supplies minister K.H. Muniyappa then met Piyush Goyal, the Union minister for consumer affairs, food and public distribution, in Delhi on Friday, only to be told that the state would not get the extra rice.
“What we have done is we have sought quotations from the National Consumers’ Cooperative Federation (NCCF), Kendriya Bhandar and National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED). They have given us quotation,” the chief minister said on Saturday, according to PTI.
“We are negotiating with them. Today the negotiations will happen. After that we will get to know the quantity, quality and price of rice will be decided.”
Asked about purchasing from the open market, Siddaramaiah said tenders have to be floated, which takes time.
“We will launch the scheme for sure. But there could be a delay of 10-15 days,” an official attached to the chief minister’s office, who declined to be named, told The Telegraph on Saturday.
He acknowledged there were concerns about the pace at which the state government can accumulate the required stocks to cater to 4.42 crore beneficiaries who come under the below-poverty-line or Antyodaya categories. “Of course, there are some concerns. But we are making all efforts to get the required quantity from other sources as quickly as possible,” the official said.
State Congress working president Saleem Ahmed on Saturday said the Union government would have to take the blame for any delay in the launch of the scheme. “The Centre is playing politics although the state is ready to pay for the rice. The BJP government at the Centre is doing this since it fears a bigger setback in the Lok Sabha elections if the Anna Bhagya scheme is allowed,” he told reporters.
The brainchild of Siddaramaiah during his 2013-18 tenure as chief minister, Anna Bhagya then provided 7kg of free rice to each individual of a BPL family. But the BJP, which came to power by destabilising the Janata Dal Secular-Congress coalition in 2019, scaled it down to 5kg.
The BJP now sees the Centre-induced delay as an opportunity to corner the Congress government. Although it was the BJP that ridiculed the five guarantees in the run-up to the elections, the party is now demanding their implementation and is set to launch an agitation from July 1 if the Anna Bhagya scheme is delayed.
The imbroglio is the result of the Union government on June 15 announcing an unexpected discontinuation of the Open Market Scheme (Domestic) sales by the Food Corporation of India that used to help states mop up additional stocks for welfare programmes. The shock decision came a day after the FCI on June 14 approved Karnataka’s request for 13.8 lakh metric tonnes of rice at the cost of Rs 34 per kilo, excluding transportation cost.
The rice conundrum comes after a successful launch of the Shakti scheme under which all women residents of Karnataka are allowed free rides on state-run transport buses.