Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has said that the Narendra Modi government’s June decision to block the sale of 2.20 lakh metric tonnes (MT) of rice to the state from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) under the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) ahead of the proposed roll-out of the five kg free rice scheme by the state government from July 1 has been a “blessing in disguise”.
The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government has been forced to provide a cash compensation of Rs 170 (at Rs 34 per kg of rice) to every member of the below poverty line (BPH) households, numbering about 1.19 crore people, who are eligible for the free rice scheme.
“We have not been able to give five kgs of rice as promised. The central government has played politics. They said they would give rice and then retracted the offer. They had rice in stock. The rice is now rotting with worms. They did not give it to us,” Siddaramaiah told a Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) general body meeting Monday.
“The refusal to give rice has been a blessing in disguise…Now we are giving people Rs 170 per head in the below poverty line (BPL) families. It is a temporary measure but people are happy. This has hurt the BJP. This is why they have started making allegations,” Siddaramaiah told the Congress meet.
The BJP-ruled Centre’s bid to block the release of 2.20 lakh MT of rice to the Karnataka government for its Anna Bhagya scheme while citing the need to check the inflationary trend, is being used as a political tool by the Congress to attack the saffron party. The Congress camp has highlighted the point that the central government’s move has saved the state nearly Rs 50 crore in transportation and storage costs due to its switch to the cash transfer in lieu of rice. The direct cash transfer to the scheme’s beneficiaries is also believed to have checked corruption that might have hit the procurement and transportation of rice.
“They went to auction the rice publicly but nobody came forward to procure it. We told them don’t give us the rice for free, we will procure it at the rate of Rs 36.40 per kg. They still refused. Do they have any humanity? The BJP has no humanity. They are anti-poor. They had rice and they said it was not available,” the CM charged.
State food and civil supplies minister K H Muniyappa said the blocking of the rice scheme had resulted in a “saving of Rs 2.60 per kg of rice in transportation and storage costs”. It has also resulted in the Congress government providing cash for two kg of additional rice that the state has been giving to BPL families during the previous BJP regime, the food minister said.
The promise to provide five kg of free rice under the Anna Bhagya scheme to the members of the BPL families – in addition to five kg of rice being provided under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana by the Centre – was among the five guarantee pledges costing nearly Rs 50,000 crore made by the Congress ahead of the May Assembly polls.
“The reason for the five guarantees is the example of advanced countries in Europe where people are provided Universal Basic Incomes. There should be money in the pockets of people for them to have purchasing power. When there is no purchasing power how will taxes be collected, how will there be GDP growth and how will jobs be created,” Siddaramaiah told the KPCC meet.
Since coming to power, the Siddaramaiah government has rolled out cash transfer for rice scheme, a free power supply scheme for all homes, and a free bus travel scheme for women. It is set to launch a Rs 2,000 cash allowance scheme for women heads of households on August 27.
A fifth scheme of Rs 3,000 allowance for a period of two years for young graduates who are unemployed for over six months, is expected in December in the countdown to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress government had set July 1 for launch of 10 kg free rice scheme (five kg rice each from the Centre and the state) on the assumption that the state would have access to the OMSS (Domestic) of the Union Food Ministry.
The state had already been procuring rice under this scheme for supplying to members of BPL families and for supplying one kg of additional rice to all ration cardholders for the last seven months (during the BJP regime), according to Muniyappa. About 95 per cent of rice sold by the Centre under the OMSS (D) this year was bought by Karnataka, the Congress said.
The FCI regional office in Bengaluru issued letters on June 12 granting approval to June 6 and June 9 letters of the Karnataka government seeking 13,819 MT and 2.08 lakh MT of rice through the OMSS (D) facility at reserve price of Rs 3,400 per quintal.
The FCI however withdrew the order on June 14 after the Union Food Ministry ordered a halt to the supply of rice to states under the OMSS (D) facility.
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According to a Food Ministry statement, the decision to stop the sale of rice to states through the OMSS (D) was taken at a meeting of the Inter Ministerial committee on June 8. “The decision of GoI to discontinue the sale of wheat and rice under OMSS(D) is focused on controlling food inflation in order to protect the rest of the consumers,” the Ministry claimed.
The Karnataka government referred to the availability of 265 lakh MT of rice with the FCI on June 14 against a buffer stock of 135 lakh MT to question the Centre’s move to block the supply of rice under the OMSS (D) scheme.
“The fact is that the FCI has more than enough stocks to meet Karnataka’s and the country’s needs but the Modi government is trying its very best to close every single avenue for the Karnataka government to fulfil its guarantee to the people of Karnataka,” Congress general secretary in charge of communications Jairam Ramesh had then charged.