Wheat/flour at doorstep: Challenges galore as Punjab works out implementation plan
An official of the food and civil supplies said that the department has no way to ascertain the quantity of wheat flour required and number of beneficiaries who will opt for delivery at doorsteps
The flagship populist scheme of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab for the distribution of packaged wheat flour or wheat at the doorstep of the beneficiaries is expected to kick start in the month of October or November.
However, there is no clarity on the quantity of wheat flour required as the number of beneficiaries who have opted for it is still to be ascertained.
“There is no mechanism to find this out,” said an official privy to the discussion in the state food and civil supplies department, who didn’t wish to be named, adding that it will only be known when the distribution starts.
Also, the department doesn’t know how many beneficiaries will want delivery at their doorstep, he added.
As per the department’s figures, there are 1.47 crore beneficiaries covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) known as Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY).
Each beneficiary is supplied 5kg per month, given every quarter at ₹2 per kg.
From January this year, the Centre has decided to offer wheat free of cost. “Which means the wheat flour will be provided without any cost,” said the food department officer.
When the AAP government came to power in March last year, chief minister Bhagwant Mann announced to give wheat flour instead of wheat stating that it will save beneficiaries’ time and harassment who first have to queue up at ration depots (fair price shop) and later at flour mills (chakkis). The state government has set aside ₹675 crore for grinding and distribution of wheat.
“In the beginning, we have decided to grind 25% of the total wheat requirement into flour, let’s see how the distribution system pans out,” said a senior official of The Punjab State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation Limited (Markfed), on the condition of anonymity. Markfed has been made the nodal agency for the distribution of wheat flour.
“The monthly wheat requirement is 72,500 tonnes, so initially we will be grinding 14,500 tonnes,” the official added.
There are other challenges as well. Against the need for 18,000 fair price shops, only 12,000 are functional. The transportation and other logistics are also in the process of being worked out, revealed an official in Markfed.
According to a senior Markfed official, the state’s cooperative body will open and operate 750-800 fair price shops in the state, five per block, to facilitate the distribution of packaged wheat or wheat flour.
Last month, the state cabinet approved a revised mechanism for the distribution of packaged wheat flour or wheat at the doorsteps of beneficiaries by roping in fair price shop owners. It was decided that the distribution of ‘atta’ (wheat flour) or wheat shall be allowed in loose quantities, weighed, across the counter in ration depots or in specially-sealed packets delivered at the doorstep of the beneficiary or the nearest motorable point, by the ration depot holders.
The scheme hit the wall last year when the fair price shop owners moved the Punjab and Haryana high court challenging the move by the state government to bypass them in the scheme. However, the state government now have decided to involve these shops.
Earlier this month Punjab governor Banwarilal Purohit also sought clarity on the scheme writing to the CM Bhagwant Mann to reply on the matter raised by his office last year pointing out anomalies in the scheme. According to the senior officials in the food and civil supplies, the government has already sent a reply to the governor’s queries.
The scheme stats
Last month, the state cabinet approved a revised mechanism for the distribution of packaged wheat flour or wheat at the doorsteps of beneficiaries by roping in fair price shop owners
Beneficiaries under the NFSA
wheat/wheat flour distributed to each beneficiary per month
monthly requirement of wheat/wheat flour
Set aside by govt to fund grinding and logistics for doorstep delivery
functional fair price shops in the state
Markfed to operate additional fair price shops to facilitate the scheme