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Centre to bear entire cost of rice fortification for Public Distribution at ₹2,700 cr per year

Centre to bear entire cost of rice fortification for Public Distribution at ₹2,700 cr per year
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Centre to bear the entire cost of rice fortification for Public Distribution at ₹2,700 cr per year.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved a plan that will see rice fortified with vitamins that can help prevent malnutrition released from government stocks for use in the Public Distribution System (PDS) and other welfare programmes such as mid-day meals. This, however, will be done in two phases and will be implemented in all districts for all schemes by March 2024.

Three-pronged strategy

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

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

Already, from April 2021, the entire country will be covered by ICDS and PM POSHAN, which were implemented as part of a three-year pilot scheme launched in 2019-20. PDS beneficiaries in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Jharkhand have also received fortified rice.

March 2024 is the goal

The government plans to cover all 291 aspirational and high-burden districts (identified based on stunting cases) under PDS and OWS schemes by March 2023, with the remaining districts receiving it by March 2024.

The pilot scheme on ‘Fortification of Rice and its Distribution through the Public Distribution System’ was launched in 2019-20 for a three-year period with an estimated budget of 174.64 crore. In his Independence Day address last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the programme, which aims to provide nutrition to every poor person in order to combat malnutrition and a lack of essential nutrients in women, children, and lactating mothers.

Separately, Union Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey told the media that during the pilot, 11 states distributed 4.30 lakh tonnes (lt) of fortified rice in their designated districts. He also stated that approximately 17 litres of fortified rice were distributed through ICDS and PM POSHAN last fiscal year. Meanwhile, FCI and state agencies have procured up to 88.65 litres of fortified rice.

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Pandey stated that the programmes have worked well in improving nutrition in countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico, and that the study from pilot projects in Odisha and Gujarat has also established the positive impact of fortification. He also stated that the total annual cost of rice fortification would be less than 2% of the total food subsidy, with an estimated savings of Rs. ₹50,000 crore on health-care expenses.

According to the Food Secretary, the government plans to fortify 175 lt of rice this fiscal year, including 35 lt for ICDS and PM-POSHAN programmes, and 350 lt next year.