Several ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party workers have recently claimed that the Centre has distributed free food grains to 80 crore people. The last one to do so was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who, in his Independence Day speech, said, "The way India has kept the stoves burning in the poor households by providing free food grains to 80 crore countrymen continuously for months during the pandemic is not only astonishing to the world but also a matter of discussion."

Before him, it was President Ram Nath Kovind, who made a similar claim. On the eve of India's 75th Independence Day, President Kovind, while addressing the nation, said, "Sensitive to their needs, the government had taken a series of relief measures last year. This year also, the government had distributed food grains to about 80 crore people in May and June. This benefit has been extended till Diwali."

This claim has been shared and lauded by others too, like BJP National Secretary Sunil Deodhar, Minister of State for Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Shobha Karandlaje and BJP Mahila Morcha social media in-charge Priti Gandhi.


Fact-check

The distribution of food grains referred to here comes under the Centre's Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), which aims to provide 5 kilogrammes of rice or wheat (or a combination of both) free of cost per month to 80 crore beneficiaries (from a maximum of 81.34 crore) covered under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA).

The PMGKAY is a part of the COVID-19 relief package announced by the Union government on March 26, 2020 under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana. The PMGKAY has been implemented in four phases since April 2020.

Providing 5kg of food grains to 80 crore people would mean the Centre would have to allocate and distribute a total of 40 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) across all states/UTs. However, the official dashboard of the NFSA mentions that there are a total of 79.28 crore beneficiaries under the Act, as of August 16, 2021, which still brings the allocation and distribution to around 39.641 LMT each month. But not even a single month since April 2020 has the amount of food grains distributed touched this number.

By this calculation, during Phase-I (April-June 2020) of PMGKAY, 118.92 LMT should have been allocated and distributed to the people. But, PMGKAY's Annavitran platform showed that the Centre allocated 116 LMT, distributed 101 LMT. This means 87% of the food grains reached the people.

In the next phase, which was five months long (July-November 2020), 198.2 LMT should have been given, but Annavitran showed the Centre allocated 189 LMT of food grains and distributed 91% or 172 LMT. Again, in Phase-III, which was during May-June 2021 during the peak of the second-wave of COVID-19, 79.28 LMT should have been provided to the beneficiaries. But, the platform reflected that 74.14 LMT was allocated and 68.08 LMT or 91% was distributed. Lastly, during the ongoing Phase-IV (July-November 2021), 204 LMT have been allocated.

Clashing Official Data

According to a response given in the Lok Sabha on July 20, 2021 by Minister of State for Rural Development and Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, the allocated amount is different from that mentioned on the government's Annavitran platform. The response shows that in Phase-I it was 121 LMT, in Phase-II 201 LMT, and in Phase-III 79.39 LMT.

According to an update on Prime Minister's website, under PMGKAY 2020 (April-November 2020), a total of 305 LMT of food grains were lifted by states/UTs and 298 LMT (93% of allocated quantity) was distributed all over the country. But, data collated from the Annavitran portal shows that around 274.08 LMT were distributed during this period.

FactChecker tried contacting the Prime Minister's Office, the office of Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food & Distribution, Piyush Goyal and that of Jyoti. But got no response from any of them. If and when we do, the story will be updated.

Calculation of Beneficiaries

The NFSA covers about 67% (or about two-thirds) of the population based on the 2011 Census. But the provisional population of India was 1.201 billion in 2011, according to the Census 2011 and its projected population for 2021 is around 1.339 billion, according to government estimates.

FactChecker spoke to Nikhil Dey, founding member of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), for insights on calculation of beneficiaries under the NFSA.

"Since the tracking and distribution of food grains through Aadhar [card] and biometrics started taking place, we have found that the number of people who are on the list and do not receive or are unable to receive food grains ranges from 15%-25%. Essentially, the system of delivery is flawed because the targeted population isn't receiving food grains," said Dey.

He also mentioned that people's major complaint is not the quality of food grains they receive, but that they are either not getting it or not getting the promised quantity. "There are a lot of people who are born after the 2011 Census, who are not getting their meals at all. Even if the people are unable to pick up [the ration] for any reason, there should be a reserve list that helps the government cover and reach their target of 67%. This is not just a failure of delivery, but it's callous up to the point of being cruel," Dey concluded.



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