As hundreds of migrants continue to travel a long distance in this COVID-19 crisis, Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Saturday appealed to state governments to immediately lift food grains and pulses from the godowns and distribute them for free within a fortnight to 8 crore migrants who neither have centre nor state ration card.
According to the food ministry, about 142 lakh migrants will benefit in Uttar Pradesh and in Bihar (86.45 lakh), Maharasthra (70 lakh), West Bengal (60.1 lakh), Madhya Pradesh (54.64 lakh), Rajasthan (44.66 lakh), Karnataka (40.19 lakh), Gujarat (38.25 lakh), Tamil Nadu (35.73 lakh), Jharkhand (26.37 lakh), Andhra Pradesh (26.82 lakh) and Assam (25.15 lakh).
In the national capital, about 7.27 lakh migrants will get free 5 kg food grains per person and 1 kg chana per family for May and June.
"If the number of migrants exceeds the current estimation of 8 crore, the Centre is ready to provide additional grains for free supply but the identified person should be genuine which state governments have to validate," Paswan told the media via video conference.
The allocation has been made considering 10 per cent of the existing 81 crore beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act.
The free food distribution to 8 crore migrants for two months was announced by the Centre on May 14 as part of an economic package to help those who bore the brunt of the clampdown to fight the COVID-19 crisis. The centre will bear the cost of this intervention, estimated at Rs 3,500 crore.
"This decision is in the interest of migrants. Congress may say give more quantity of foodgrains for free. The NFSA, under which 5 kg per person subsidised grain is given to 81 crore through PDS, was framed during the UPA time. But, the Modi government is doing maximum. This is not the end of all. The prime minister is sensitive and aware of the situation," Paswan noted.
Paswan, a National Democratic Alliance ally, further said his ministry has made all arrangements for distribution of free ration to migrants, but the state governments which have to implement at the ground level, have to be proactive and lift the ration from godowns and begin distribution immediately.
An allocation of 7.99 lakh tonne of foodgrains has been made for distribution for two months for free. Of which, the maximum would be rice 6.95 lakh tonne which would be easy for migrants to consume, while the rest 1.04 lakh tonne is wheat, he said.
"Now also, many migrants are returning home by walking. It is a difficult situation. Some have died on the way. They are covering long distances on foot. It hurts looking at their plight" he added.
The priority now is to ensure migrants do not go hungry. Therefore, the Centre is not insisting states give details of migrant beneficiaries for availing free ration. They can provide after two months but they have to keep the data for accountability sake, he added.
According to the food ministry, both rice and wheat have been allocated to Delhi and Gujarat, only wheat to Rajasthan, Punjab and Chandigarh, while rice to rest of the states and union territories.
Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said already the Karnataka government has begun lifting the grain. The Madhya Pradesh government will do so from May 18, while Kerala has responded to take the grain from godowns.
States can directly supply free ration at shelter camps, or issue distressed coupons or adopt any suitable method for free distribution of 5 kg of rice or wheat per person and 1 kg of chana (grama) per family for May and June, he said.
States can lift an entire two months' quantity of ration in one go, he said adding that after lifting the grain states should distribute to migrants within 15 days.