Bhubaneswar: Subsidised rice has been a vote reaper in Odisha and also a key ingredient of conflict between the State government and the Centre. This time round, free rice has become a new bone of contention between the State and the Centre.

Flagging concerns over non-allocation of food grains under the Annapurna Scheme in which 10kg food grains, in this case rice, is distributed free of cost; the Odisha Food Supplies Secretary wrote to the Union Rural Development Secretary seeking release of food grains and funds pending for the past two years.

Odisha has highlighted that the Centre has not been providing rice to the beneficiaries of the State under the scheme for past two years. In the letter, the State Food Supplies Secretary stated "After repeated requests the Centre provided rice for last six months of 2016-17. However, the Centre is yet to release allocation of food grains for the first half of 2016-17 and for complete year of 2017-18." The State Secretary further asked to release funds for 2017-18 and second half of 2018-19 for implementation of the scheme in the State.

"Since food grains under the Annapurna Scheme have already been distributed to eligible beneficiaries during the above period and the required utilisation certificates (UCs) furnished, early release of pending allotment of food grains and funds is necessary to square up the accounts with stakeholders," the letter stated.

"For the past three years the Centre has not given us a single grain under Annapurna Scheme. As the Centre is not providing food grains, the State government has made own arrangements to provide rice to beneficiaries. We have written to the Centre earlier several times, but they are not paying any heed," said Surjya Narayan Patro, Odisha Food Supplies Minister.

Under the scheme, the Centre provides 7,776 metric tonnes of rice to a total of 64,800 beneficiaries of the State and also extends financial assistance of Rs 5.60 crore every year.

However, the BJP alleged that the State government has not been providing utilisation certificates of the funds sanctioned under the scheme for the past two years. On the other hand, Congress stated the State government has been embezzling the funds and rice given by the Centre as well.

"Odisha government had not given the utilisation certificate to the Centre for the past two years which shows their inefficiency. Secondly, the beneficiaries are suffering as their allotments get delayed by one year," said Prithviraj Harichandan, Odisha BJP general secretary.

In his reaction, AICC Secretary, Sarat Rout, stated "There are irregularities in distribution of rice under the Annapurna scheme. Therefore, there is delay in utilisation certificates. Only poor people will suffer in the fight between BJD and BJP."

Declining the charges, Patro said, "There is no question of irregularities. As per the guidelines of the Government of India, beneficiaries have been identified. If someone thinks they are not eligible beneficiaries, an inquiry can be done as all the details are available on the website."

Already, the Odisha government, alleging that the Centre's National Food Security Act does not cover all the beneficiaries, has launched its own Food Security scheme to provide five kg rice to 25 lakh beneficiaries. On this backdrop, experts believe that State is leaving no stone unturned to allege Central negligence once again.