NEW DELHI: The central government has enough grains to feed over 81 crore beneficiaries of the public distribution system (PDS) for nine months, Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan said on Sunday, expressing confidence that its granaries, expecting a boost from a "bumper" wheat crop, will have adequate stock for a much longer period.
With the government likely to extend the nation-wide lockdown till the month-end, the Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution minister said that the transportation and distribution of food grains at an "unprecedented" scale has emerged as a "lifeline" during the crisis, with the poor being assured of their ration supply in time.
As of April 10, the government-run godowns have 299.45 LMT (lakh metric ton) rice and 235.33 LMT wheat, totalling 534.78 LMT of the two major grains supplied to the poor, Paswan told PTI in an interview.
The per month supply through the PDS amounts to 60 LMT, he said.
Coarse grains and pulses are also supplied through the PDS in a limited quantity.
"There is no shortage of grains. We now have a bumper rabi harvest and our estimate is that we will have adequate stock for up to two years," he said.
Though the extended lockdown may have sparked a variety of concerns, including about economy, but any shortage of essential grains like wheat and rice is the least of them.
Paswan said in a lighter vein that the condition is akin to "the lawyer (Centre) being more keen about the case than the client (states)", with the Union government constantly asking states to lift their quota of rations in time after it was announced that all PDS beneficiaries will get three months of supply free.
What has been seen is "unprecedented and historic", he said about the mechanism put in for the distribution of grains, with trains playing a key role.
Recently in one day, over 20.19 LMT of grains were moved through trains, a record, he noted.
The government has also made it easier for agencies, public or private, to purchase grains from it at a subsidised rate if they are involved in helping the poor.
"If in this lockdown there had been any issue regarding the supply of food grains, then it could have created havoc.
So the biggest satisfaction and relief is that it has all gone well," Paswan, a member of the Group of Ministers overseeing the lockdown exercise, said.
Following the start of the three-week lockdown from March 24 midnight, the government had announced three months of free ration for the PDS beneficiaries and also allowed them to purchase their usual monthly quota on credit for three months.
The antyodaya (poorest in the lot) beneficiaries, who get 35 kg of food grains per month irrespective of their family size, were allocated an additional 5 kg per head in the family.
These measures have been of huge help in ensuring that nobody goes hungry during the lockdown, and the government's steps to combat the pandemic get maximum support, he said.