In order to address the issue of malnutrition among the poor, the Centre on Friday announced that it will supply fortified rice through government schemes such as PDS and PM-POSHAN in three phases by 2024, a move that will cost the central exchequer Rs 2,700 crore per year. A decision in this regard was taken at the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Thursday.
The Prime Minister in his address on the 75th Independence Day had announced that fortified rice will be provided through all central government schemes by 2024. Fortified rice is made as per the standards fixed by the food regulator FSSAI which has prescribed blending rice with three micronutrients -- Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12.
Briefing media about the Cabinet decisions, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said the CCEA has approved distribution of fortified rice in a phased manner through Public Distribution System (PDS), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman-PM POSHAN (erstwhile Mid-Day Meal Scheme) and Other Welfare Schemes (OWS).
The entire cost of rice fortification would be around Rs 2,700 crore per annum and it will be borne by the central government as part of food subsidy, he said. Fortification will provide nutrition to every poor person of the country to overcome malnutrition and lack of essential nutrients in women, children, lactating mothers, he said.
Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey, in a separate media briefing, said the first phase of implementation, under which 35 lakh tonnes of fortified rice were to be supplied through ICDS and PM-POSHAN, got slightly delayed because of the COVID pandemic. The first phase got started only in October 2021 and about 17 lakh tonnes of fortified rice was lifted, he said, adding that the first phase was implemented under the budgetary provision of the Women and Child Development Ministry.
With the Cabinet approval, the regular implementation of the programme starts now as the cost of fortification would be borne as part of the food subsidy bill, he said. Further, Pandey said the cost of rice fortification is estimated to be Rs 2,700 crore per annum. The second phase will cover targeted public distribution system and other welfare schemes in all aspirational and high-burden districts on stunting by March 2023. In the final phase, all remaining districts will be covered by March 2024.
The secretary said the government had piloted in 2019-20 distribution of fortified rice in 11 states through PDS and nearly 4.30 lakh tonnes of grain in their identified districts. till March, this year. The states are Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharasthra, Tamil Nadu, Chhatisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarkhand and Jharkhand.
Asked if the country has enough capacity to supply Fortified Rice Kernels (FRKs), Pandey said about 1.75 lakh tonnes of FRKs are required in the second phase, against which mills have capacity of 2.5 lakh tonnes. "We are already ahead of the capacity creation. And going forward, we wanted to give policy certainty in the production ecosystem and that is why all the standards have been formalised. whether it is FRK premix standards, FRK kernel standards, or FRK manufacturing or the blender going to be fortified by rice mills," he said. There would be different packaging for fortified rice with 'red' mark on a bag. There is no problem with the efficacy of fortified rice up to 1.5 years, he said.