Only 15% of poor households in India have received 1 kg of pulses in April as part of the Centre’s welfare package amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Hindu reported on Sunday. Of the 1.96 lakh tonnes of pulses that were allocated for more than 19 crore households this month, only 30,000 tonnes have been distributed so far, according to a report by the Consumer Affairs Department.
On March 26, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the government had decided that all ration card holders in India will be provided 1 kg of pulses every month starting April, for a period of three months as part of the PM Garib Kalyan package. All 80 crore National Food Security Act beneficiaries were to get an extra 5 kg of rice or wheat each month, while each household was to get 1 kg of pulses to meet protein needs. On April 20, the government reiterated the distribution of pulses.
However, the distribution of foodgrains has reportedly met with several hurdles.
“The scale of this operation is massive and far more complex than foodgrain movement,” a statement by the Department of Consumer Affairs said. “Each kg of pulse goes through at least three [in many cases four] trips by truck and as many cycles of loading and unloading. While for long distances, transport is being done through goods train, in most cases transportation is by road through trucks.”
The operation involves about two lakh truck trips, which is a challenging to fulfil amid the countrywide lockdown, given that many godowns and mills lie in infection hotspot areas. Availability of trucks and labour for loading and unloading has been a major problem in these areas, the department said.
Since the government only stores unmilled pulses in its godowns, this has caused further delays. However, distribution is likely to speed up by the first week of May, the ministry said.
Many states and Union Territories, particularly the smaller ones such as Andamans, Chandigarh, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Goa, Ladakh, Puducherry, Lakshadweep and even Punjab have been provided milled [or] cleaned pulses for all three months in one go, it added, according to The Times of India.
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation is the nodal agency that procures and stores a buffer stock of pulses. To provide the necessary 5.88 lakh tonnes of cleaned and milled pulses promised under the scheme, the agriculture body has pressed over 100 dall mills into service to process about 8.5 lakh tonnes of unmilled pulses lying in about 165 godowns across the country.
This is the first time that India is distributing pulses in the country as part of the Public Distribution System and comes at a time when millions of poor people have lost their ability to purchase protein sources as the coronavirus lockdown upended their livelihoods.
However, according to The Wire, the quantity of pulses the government has decided to distribute to ration card holders is meagre – at 1 kg per household. This translates to only 200 g per person per month as the average household size in India is close to five.
The total number of coronavirus cases in India reached 26,496 on Sunday morning and the toll rose to 824.