The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved a plan under which rice, fortified with vitamins that can help prevent malnutrition, will be released from government stocks for the Public Distribution System (PDS) and other welfare programmes such as mid-day meals.

However, this will be done in another two phases and will be rolled out in all districts for all schemes by March 2024.

Three-phased approach

The Cabinet has approved the distribution of fortified rice through PDS and other government schemes in three phases, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said on Friday. The entire cost of rice fortification, estimated at ₹2,700 crore per year, would be borne by the Centre as part of the food subsidy.

Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman-PM POSHAN (previously known as mid-day meal scheme) and other welfare schemes (OWS) of the Food Ministry will be covered under the fortified rice scheme apart from 81 crore beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Already ICDS and PM POSHAN across the country are covered from April 2021, which was implemented under a 3-year pilot scheme launched in 2019-20. Besides, PDS beneficiaries in one district each in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand have also been receiving the fortified rice.

Target: March 2024

In the next phase, the government targets to cover all 291 aspirational and high-burden districts (identified on basis of cases of stunting) under PDS and OWS schemes by March 2023, while the remaining districts will get it by March 2024.

The pilot scheme on “Fortification of Rice and its Distribution under Public Distribution System” was implemented for a period of three years, beginning from 2019-20, at an estimated budget of ₹174.64 crore. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day address last year, had announced the programme that aims to provide nutrition to every poor to overcome malnutrition and lack of essential nutrients in women, children and lactating mothers.

Briefing media separately, Union Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said 11 States had distributed 4.30 lakh tonnes (lt) of fortified rice in their identified districts during the pilot. He also said about 17 lt of fortified rice got distributed under ICDS and PM POSHAN last fiscal. Meanwhile, as many as 88.65 lt of fortified rice so far, have been procured by FCI and State agencies.

Claiming that the programmes have worked well in improving nutrition in countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico, Pandey said the study from pilot project in Odisha and Gujarat has also been very clear in establishing the positive impact of fortification. He also said the total annual cost of rice fortification would be less than 2 per cent of total food subsidy whereas estimated savings of about ₹50,000 crore on expenses incurred in health care.

The Food Secretary said the government targets to fortify 175 lt of rice, including 35 lt for ICDS and PM-POSHAN programmes, in the current fiscal, whereas it will be 350 lt next year.