Karnataka rice scheme for poor at the heart of Siddaramaiah-Centre battle
Less than a month after taking power, Karnataka’s Congress government has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of trying to choke a rice scheme meant for the poor by not giving rice to the state.
The Siddaramaiah government was all set out to lunch the “Anna Bhagya” scheme as promised ahead of the May election under which 10 kg of rice would be given free for the BPL (Below Poverty Line) and Antyodaya families – the poorest of the poor.
This was a scheme Siddaramaiah had stated in his first term in office in 2013.
Accordingly, the Karnataka government wrote to the Deputy General Manager of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) in Bengaluru on June 9 that the state requires 2.28 lakh tonnes of rice on June 9, 2023.
The FCI agreed to provide three days later rice at Rs 3,400 per quintal, saying it had 7 lakh tonnes of rice.
Food grain supply
The FCI sells surplus stocks of wheat and rice under the Open Market Sale Scheme (Domestic) or OMSS(D) at predetermined prices through e-auction in the open market from time to time to enhance the supply of food grains during the lean season and thereby moderate the open market prices, especially in the deficit regions.
As per the Karnataka government planning, while it would get 5 kg rice under the Food Security Act from the Central government, it would get the other 5 kg from the FCI at subsidized rate.
Suddenly, out of the blue, the Centre tripped Karnataka with a policy decision no one knew was coming.
The Union Food Ministry decided on June 13 – a day after the FCI in Bengaluru agreed to give rice to Karnataka – to exclude state governments (except those in the northeast) from the ambit of OMSS (D) to ensure that the inflationary trends were kept under control and there were adequate stocks in the Central pool.
The unexpected development made Siddaramaiah see red. It alleged that the decision was a conspiracy to prevent the supply of rice. The chief minister vowed to take up the subject with the prime minister.
Siddaramaiah accused the Central government of snatching Kannadiga’s and the poor people’s share of rice and branded the Modi regime “anti-Kannadiga” and anti-poor.
Notwithstanding the Centre’s claim that it was not a sudden decision, the chief minister called it a “political decision” and said its sole motive was to derail the promised Annabhagya scheme.
According to the Centre, under OMSS(D), the quantity a bidder can purchase in a single bid ranges from 10-100 tonnes. During an earlier sale, the maximum quantity allowed was 3,000 tonnes per bid for a buyer.
The quantities were reduced this time to accommodate more small and marginal buyers and to ensure a wider reach of the scheme.
Through OMSS(D), private purchasers can buy foodgrains from FCI through e-tender while state governments have to go through auction.
Karnataka’s worry, which requires 2.28 lakh tonnes, is that it has to pay more for the rice if the private buyers purchase entire stock through auction and hoard it for more money.
The Modi government says agriculture production has been affected due to untimely rains and rise in temperature in March. Therefore, the stocks available with the FCI have to be released judiciously under the OMSS (D).
But the Karnataka government is not satisfied with any of the explanations coming from New Delhi. It just cannot understand that the Centre made a U-turn just after the FCI had agreed to supply the rice to Karnataka.
A desperate Karnataka government has already contacted rice-growing states such as Punjab, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Haryana. Punjab has expressed helplessness due to lack of availability.
If nothing happens soon, the “Anna Bhagya” scheme may be delayed beyond July 1.
“We should call the Center anti-poor as they are denying rice despite the availability of stock. The Centre doesn’t give rice for free. We pay them. We are still making efforts. This is a conspiracy against us,” Siddaramaiah said.