In flood-hit Kerala, controversy erupts over who pays for food grains; Centre says settling bills not a priority

As Kerala reels from the floods that left 223 people dead in a fortnight and forced over 10 lakh people out of their homes, a controversy erupted on Tuesday after several reports claimed that the Centre had asked the state government to pay for the food grains that it would be sending to the state as relief material.

The background

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had sought 1.18 lakh tonnes of food grains from the central government, which is the monthly allocation to Kerala under the National Food Security Act. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Food and Public Distribution allotted 89,540 metric tonnes of food grains to the state in response to the demand. However, news website Kaumudi reported that the Union food ministry, in a letter to the state food and safety department, said that the Kerala administration will have to pay Rs 233 crore to the Centre for the food grains.

A copy of the letter marked to Food Corporation of India chairman said that they could subsequently furnish the credit bill adjusting the payment with the state's eligible entitlement from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) or other schemes, including the National Food Security Act.

“Kerala can accept the deal within a month. The food grains will be charged at Rs 25 per kilogram. If Kerala fails to pay the cost, the state will be excluded from schemes under the Food Security Act, or the amount will be debited from the NDRF,” the report quoted from the letter.

What did Paswan say?

As the issue turned controversial, Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan clarified on Tuesday evening that Kerala will not be charged for the food grains provided as relief material.

The 1.18 lakh tonnes of food grains that Kerala gets under the National Food Security Act does not cover the entire population. "We want food grains to reach every person in the state. So we are sending an additional 89,540 tonnes. We have also sent 100 tonnes of pulses, with 80 tonnes to be supplied daily henceforth," Paswan told reporters in New Delhi.

Under the Act, 75 percent of the rural population and up to 50 percent of the urban population receives subsidised food grains — 5 kilogram per person per month at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Rs 1 per kilogram of rice, wheat and coarse grains, respectively.

 In flood-hit Kerala, controversy erupts over who pays for food grains; Centre says settling bills not a priority

Kerala is reeling under the century's worst floods, after long heavy rains. Twitter@PIB_India

Paswan said that the food ministry had not decided on who would incur the expenses on the supply of additional food grains. "It is in the initial stage. The issue of who pays the bill is not a matter of concern now. The food grains can be supplied for three months," he added.

The central government will provide as much help as possible to Kerala, the Union minister asserted.

What else has the Centre done, so far? 

The central government has released Rs 600 crore to flood-hit Kerala and decided to waive customs duty and the inter-state GST on the relief material being sent for the people affected in the state.

An official spokesperson for the government was quoted as saying by PTI that the Centre, on Tuesday, had released the Rs 500 crore announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and of Rs 100 crore announced by Home Affairs Minister Rajnath Singh as assistance for Kerala.

Public sector oil marketing companies have contributed Rs 25 crore to the Kerala Chief Minister's Relief Fund. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has opened special points in flood-affected regions of the state for LPG distribution. Besides granting permission for non-certified vehicles to carry LPG cylinders, the petroleum ministry has also made available 3.2 lakh LPG cylinders and 2.2 lakh regulators.

So far, the railway ministry has supplied 24 lakh litres of drinking water, in addition to 2.7 lakh water bottles, to Kerala. It has also made arrangements to supply bedsheets and blankets to the flood victims and is transporting relief material from various states free of cost.

The health ministry will supply three crore chlorine tablets in addition to the one crore tablets supplied earlier. At least 30 tonnes of bleaching powder and 1.76 lakh sanitary pads have also been sent. Additional quantities will be transported in the next few days.

The Ministry of Food Processing Industries is supplying essential spices, salt, tea and coffee, as per the state government's requirements.

Other controversies over the Kerala floods

Despite the dire state of Kerala, the flood situation has not been free from controversies, one of which cropped up after the United Arab Emirates (USE) extended $100 million (roughly Rs 700 crore) as financial assistance to rebuild the southern Indian state. The controversy is not over the West Asian country's gesture, but over the fact that the aid it offered was higher than the monetary assistance provided by the Centre.

Another row amid the flood situation is over the demand to declare the floods as "national disaster". Parties like the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party have criticised the Narendra Modi government for not declaring the deluge a national calamity.

On Monday, Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam had turned down the demand and said there was no provision in the Disaster Management Act 2005 to do so.

Meanwhile, the central government informed the Kerala High Court that the tragedy in Kerala had been categorised as a level-3 catastrophe. According to The Times of India, the Centre was responding to a petition seeking to have the floods classified as a "national disaster". "It is submitted that there is no provision in statutes or manuals to declare a disaster a ‘national calamity’, howsoever big it may be. It is only an expression used in general parlance," the report quoted the government as saying in a statement to the high court.

The Kerala government on Tuesday also sought a Rs 2,600-crore special package from the Centre for rehabilitation work.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Aug 22, 2018 07:07:38 IST