States and Union Territories have so far distributed free food grains to 2.51 lakh migrant workers against the target of 8 crore under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Scheme, Union Food Ministry said on Tuesday while clarifying that the low utilisation clearly shows the actual number of migrant workers was much less. Also, if migrant workers had returned to their home states then they were already covered either under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) or state ration card scheme, the ministry said.
The ministry also said moderate coverage should not imply the "under performance" of the scheme because the target of 8 crore migrants should not be construed as the real target. In mid-May, the Centre had announced free distribution of 5 kg food grains and 1 kg "chana" under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Scheme (ANBS) for May and June to 8 crore migrants who do not have either central or state ration cards. Later, states were given time till August 31 to complete the distribution.
The Centre had allocated 8 lakh tonnes of food grains to states/UTs under this scheme for two months. But states lifted 6.38 lakh tonnes. "As per reports available up to August 17, out of total 6.38 lakh tonnes of lifted food grains, a total of about 2.49 lakh tonnes (39 per cent) food grains have been distributed by the states/UTs under the ANBS to identified migrants/ stranded migrants," the ministry said in a statement.
With the distribution going on until August 31, it is expected that some more migrant persons may benefit from free food grains under the scheme, it said. The ministry, however, said: "The low utilization clearly confirms that the actual number of migrant workers were actually much less and if they had returned to their home states then they were already covered either under NFSA or State Ration Card scheme."
Besides distribution of free food grains under this scheme, some of the states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura, Manipur, J&K have also issued new ration cards after March, 2020 to beneficiaries not covered earlier. "This means about 60.70 lakh additional persons got covered during this period who were not covered earlier as they were outside the state and on return got new cards made. And this number could easily be added to 2.51 crore migrants who got coverage under ANBS, raising the number of actual beneficiaries to 3.81 crore on a monthly basis," it said.
That apart, many states/UTs have drawn subsidised food grains from the Open Market Sales Scheme (OMSS) and have provided the same to various civil societies, NGOs, district administrations to deliver either food-kits or cooked meals to many more migrants who needed food assistance during the time of utmost crisis. States have also used their Disaster Response Fund resources in the initial period to cater to food requirements of migrants/stranded migrants.
"…the provision for additional 8 crore persons (under ANBS) was deliberately on the liberal side and the moderate utilization clearly shows that the actual number of inter-state migrants was much less than anticipated earlier," the ministry explained. This also shows that provision was more than sufficient and did not fall short of the requirement of migrants/stranded migrants. The interpretation that 8 crore migrants actually existed, and should have been served is thus not a correct interpretation of facts, it said.
Also, it should be a matter of further satisfaction that this number (of migrants) turned out to be much less at 2.33 crore in May and another 2.37 crore in June, falling in the range of assessment made by the State/UTs by the end of May, 2020 reflecting an indicative figure of 2.80 crore, it said. In addition, 1.30 crore additional persons were covered after March, 2020 who after returning to states are getting regular ration under NFSA and Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana.
"…therefore, the number of 8 crore persons should not be construed as the real target and under performance of ANBS," the ministry said. The fact that even after the extension of the distribution time of the already lifted quantity of food grains by two months till August, only over 21 lakh beneficiaries could be covered in July by all states and about 6 lakh beneficiaries in August, is an indication that all migrants/stranded migrants have been covered and the ANB scheme has served the purpose for which it was brought out.
"It should, therefore, be seen as the success of this timely intervention rather than otherwise," it asserted. Further, the Ministry said a very "liberal estimate" of about 8 crore migrants was made for free grain distribution under the scheme because there was no data available with either the Central Government or the State Governments.
In fact, the scale of the problem as got highlighted in the media was such that it required a "compassionate and generous response" from the government so that no one was left out, it added.