Andhra opposition slams government’s ‘cash in lieu of rice’ scheme

Opposition accuses the state of washing its hands of its responsibility towards the poor

The state government procured 1.58 crore tonnes of paddy this season | File Photo

The opposition in Andhra Pradesh has accused the government of tinkering with the food security of people by proposing to distribute “cash in lieu of rice” under the public distribution system.

On Wednesday, the government said beneficiaries will have the option of opting out of the PDS system in favour of a direct cash transfer.

The scheme, which is still being worked out, will first be implemented in five municipalities and will be scaled up once the price of rice is fixed, Civil Supplies Minister Karumuri Nageswara Rao said.

The government came up with the scheme as several beneficiaries were found to be selling the PDS rice in the open market, which then finds its way to rice-millers who sell it at higher prices, he said.

The minister also said some beneficiaries have stopped consuming rice for health reasons.

PDS beneficiaries in the state are eligible for 5 kg rice per month at 1 per kg. The government procures fine quality swarna rice, which costs between 23-25 a kg, to be distributed under the PDS. There are 1.5 crore ration card holders in Andhra.

About 3.32 lakh metric tonnes of rice is distributed annually under PDS in the state. The state government procured 1.58 crore tonnes of paddy this season.

The opposition, however, accused the state of washing its hands of its responsibility towards the poor.

“The poor are being deprived of subsidised rations. PDS rice is not just subsidised rice, it is food security for the poor,” TDP leader N Lokesh Naidu said.

BJP state president Somu Veerraju said the move will affect the food security of very poor families who are dependent on rations. “We know this government intimidates beneficiaries in order to implement its proposals, and it is doing the same this time too,” he said.

M Suryanarayana of the AP Rythu Sangam, a farmers’ group, said that if beneficiaries are given cash in lieu of rice, they would be forced to purchase from the open market at higher prices. “We have come to know that the government will fix the price of PDS rice at 12 per kg. But rice in the open market costs much more and will end up imposing a huge financial burden on the poor.” 

“Also, once this scheme is implemented, the state government may stop buying from farmers, who will then be forced to sell to rice-millers who are known to pay low prices,” he said.

Rao, however, dismissed these fears, calling the scheme “completely voluntary”.

“It gives beneficiaries the choice to buy whatever food grains they prefer. If a beneficiary does not want rice, we will credit the amount in the bank account. This scheme was, in fact, suggested by the Centre. Allegations that the state government is forcing it on beneficiaries are false. No beneficiary has been threatened with cancellation of ration cards or exclusion from other welfare schemes,” Rao told The Indian Express.

A similar scheme is already in place in Union Territories such as Chandigarh, Puducherry and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, he said.