With an eye on early Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Saturday announced rice at Re 1 a kg to about 58 lakh people in the state, including all BPL families and disabled people, four and half years after he started the Rs 2 a kg rice scheme.
Hoisting the Tricolour at Cuttack's Barabati stadium on Republic Day, Naveen said that the Re 1 a kg rice scheme was a step in his effort "to build a hunger-free Orissa". The scheme, to be implemented from February 1, would benefit over 58 lakh families including Antyodaya beneficiaries, SC&ST hostel inmates, disabled people and all APL families of Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput districts.
As per the scheme, each eligible BPL family would get 25 kg of rice every month while those under the Antyodaya Yojana will get 35 kg rice. Though the Centre gives 35 kg of rice to states for distribution among BPL families under Targeted Public Distribution System at Rs 5.65 a kg, Orissa has been subsidising the cost further by Rs 3.65 a kg.
In 2011-12, the rice subsidy had cost the state Rs 979 crore.
In August 2008, Naveen had launched the Rs 2 a kg rice for BPL families, a year before he faced the Assembly polls. Political observers said that with his mentor-turned-rival Pyari Mohan Mohapatra snapping at his heels, the Re 1 a kg rice scheme would upset the opposition's plans.
BJD sources said that the party was banking on the success of the new scheme as the Rs 2 a kg rice helped the party register comfortable win the 2009 Assembly polls and 2012 panchayat polls. With food inflation hitting the poor, BJD sources said that Naveen wants to make price rise the main issue in the polls.
Last month, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India had slammed the Rs 2 a kg rice scheme saying the government was illegally diverting rice for BPL families from the specified amount of 35 kg a month to 25 kg a month.
While the Orissa government said it was trying to cover more BPL families by reducing the allocation, the CAG in its report said by depriving the BPL families 10 kg of rice every month, the state diverted the rice involving the central subsidy of
Rs 2565.61 crore between 2002 and 2012.