Mrunal Manmay Dash

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday came down hard on the Odisha government over the free or subsidised rice distribution under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Ending the Centre-State contribution debate, senior BJP leader and Union Education Minister, Dharmendra Pradhan said while the Central government pays Rs 8,400 crore per annum to provide free rice to the needy in Odisha, the State government pays only Rs 185 crore for the same.

Pradhan said this while addressing the press in Bhubaneswar during an event on Thursday.

“While the Centre bears almost 95 percent of the cost burden, the State government has the job to identify the beneficiaries and get the ration delivered at their doorsteps,” Pradhan stated.

Citing huge difference in the financial burden that the Centre and Odisha government are shouldering, Pradhan said, “The debate is between Centre’s Rs 8,400 crore against Odisha government’s Rs 185 crore. The people of Odisha are smart enough to understand the difference.”

“We do not have any problems if the Odisha government wants to distribute free rice on their own. The Central government led by PM Narendra Modi wants only one thing, and that is to make the free ration provided by the Centre available to all the eligible beneficiaries. And I request the State government to please ensure that without any slippages,” Pradhan said.

It is pertinent to mention here that the estimated economic cost of procurement of rice by the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which includes expenses such as Minimum Support Price payment to farmers, procurement, acquisition and distribution costs, etc, is Rs 36.7/kg (2022-23).

However, under the food security legislation, the Centre has been distributing 5 kilogram of rice per person per month at highly subsidised rates of Rs 3 to states including Odisha. On top of that, the Odisha government was giving a subsidy of Rs 2, thereby, providing the rice to the beneficiaries at Re 1. However, the Odisha government was allegedly branding it as its own Re 1 rice scheme & taking undue mileage and unfair advantage during elections.

“Modi government believes in delivering the promises. He is committed to provide free foodgrains to 81 crore people. Odisha government’s earlier practice of taking mileage by spending only Rs 2, is finished now.”

The BJD denied the allegations of taking undue mileage by piggybacking on Centre’s scheme. Speaking to reporters, State Food Supplies Minister, Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak said, “The allegations of taking mileage are baseless. We have been providing free rice to people during Covid times. CM Naveen Patnaik believes in helping people as and when need arises.”

However, as the Centre announced distribution of free rice to beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for one year, many now believe that the step has effectively slammed the brakes on Odisha government’s ‘one-rupee rice politics.’

(Reported By Kapilendra Pradhan & Harihar Chand, OTV)