New Delhi: The government on Wednesday extended by three months its programme to provide free rations to the poor at a cost of Rs 44,762 crore as it looked to ease pain from high inflation and make political gains in the upcoming Gujarat elections.

“The scheme to provide 5 kg of wheat and rice free of cost to 80 crores poor every month, which was ending on Friday, will now run through December 31, 2022,” I&B Minister Anurag Thakur said.

The Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a meeting on Wednesday decided to extend the scheme by three months, he said.

The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) was started in April 2020 to help the poor whose livelihoods were shuttered by a nationwide lockdown aimed at containing the spread of the Coronavirus.

“At a time when the world is battling with the effects of Covid on its decline and insecurity due to various reasons, India has been successfully maintaining food security for its vulnerable sections while taking necessary steps to keep availability and affordability for common man,” an official statement said.

“Recognising that people have gone through a difficult period of the pandemic, government has decided to extend PMGKAY for a period of three months so that poor and vulnerable sections of society are supported for the forthcoming major festivals,” he said.

Under this scheme, 5 kg of food grain per person per month is provided free of cost for all the beneficiaries covered under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Thakur said the government has so far spent Rs 3.45 lakh crore on the PMGKAY scheme since its launch in April 2020.

“With the additional expenditure of about Rs 44,762 crore for the latest extension, the overall expenditure of the PMGKAY will be about Rs 3.91 lakh crore for all the phases,” he said.

He also said that 122 lakh tonne of foodgrains will be given out free of cost in the three months from October 1.

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