Distribution of pulses to vulnerable households brooks no delay

G Chandrashekhar | Updated on April 02, 2020 Published on April 02, 2020

Providing whole chana free of cost has advantages — logistically and consumption-wise

The Finance Minister’s welcome announcement on March 26 that the government will supply, over the next three months, 1 kg of pulses per month free of cost to vulnerable households risks running into rough weather.

It is unclear how soon the decision will be implemented; also unclear is the distribution channel that will be followed. But given the massive reverse migration the country is currently witnessing, especially in the northern parts of the country, it is critical the distribution logistics are put in place soonest.

One prickly issue that has cropped up relates to the type of pulse that should be selected for distribution free of cost and whether the country carries adequate stocks. Independent investigations reveal that several State governments are demanding tur/arhar (pigeon pea) or moong (green gram).

Desirability of chana

Gram or chana (chickpea) is the largest pulse crop of this country. Currently, an estimated 100 lakh tonnes of chana is waiting to be harvested. In addition, the apex cooperative body NAFED carries over 15 lakh tonnes of chana. It appears many State governments are not enthusiastic about distribution of chana.

Conceding there are regional preferences, any intransigence on the part of State governments can potentially derail the ambitious welfare programme, whose implementation brooks no delay. It is necessary for the Centre to engage with State governments demanding any pulse other than chana and convince the latter about the desirability of chana.

Distribution of whole chana is logistically most convenient. Also, it does not pose any issue in consumption. On the other hand, pulses like tur/arhar need to be milled and split so as to be made fit for distribution for human consumption. This process of milling is going to take time, and may defeat the objective of timely distribution of pulse along with rice or wheat.

The Central government should not lose time discussing the type of pulse to be distributed. Time is of the essence. Chana is available in abundance, buffer stock is adequate and market rates are well below minimum support price. Distribution of chana will help both growers and vulnerable consumers even as it would limit the subsidy burden for the exchequer.

An estimated 16 crore households will receive 1 kg per month for three months, taking the aggregate quantum of distribution to 4,80,000 tonnes. There is a strong case for doubling the quantum to 2 kg,which will take it to 9,60,000 tonnes.

The writer is a policy commentator and agribusiness specialist. Views are personal

Published on April 02, 2020

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