Subsidy for fishing boat kerosene in troubled waters

Fuel not available under PDS to increase quota per fisherman

 The Siddaramaiah government has done it again. The scheme to provide kerosene to fishermen using traditional boats at subsidised rate has gone haywire, due to improper planning and lack of diligence in drawing up policy.

The government announced an increase in the quantum of subsidised kerosene per beneficiary to 300 litres a month from 150 litres in the 2013-14 budget.

At that time, the Fisheries and the Food and Civil Supplies departments had said that kerosene available under the Public Distribution System (PDS) will be diverted for the scheme and, hence, there will be no additional burden on the government.

But the scheme failed to take off in the last financial year as kerosene was not available under PDS as assumed, leading to hue and cry from fishermen in Udupi, Mangalore, Bhaktal, Honnavar, Kumta and other coastal areas. Faced with criticism, the government was forced to implement the scheme from May 2014, by purchasing kerosene from the open market at exorbitant rates.

The scheme was announced as a gift to fishermen in the coastal towns by the ruling Congress for having supported it in the 2013 Assembly elections. A litre of kerosene costs about Rs 68 in the open market. Beneficiaries pay only Rs 18 per litre under the scheme and the remaining Rs 50 is borne by the government. The per capita expenditure on kerosene subsidy per annum has been estimated at a whopping Rs 1.85 lakh, making it the costliest subsidy scheme of the government.

The Fisheries department has identified 5,914 beneficiaries under the scheme. The per capita subsidy expenditure under the government’s flagship Anna Bhagya (rice at Re 1 per kg) is Rs 2,900 per annum.

The Fisheries department has sought Rs 109.41 crore for implementing the scheme. But the Finance department has taken exception to increase in funds for the scheme and described the Fisheries department’s request as “unjustified” and one that “makes little economic sense.”

In a strongly worded letter, the Finance department has not only turned down the request for fund release, it has also recommended to the government to review the scheme and seek approval of the State Cabinet.

When the decision to increase the quantum of kerosene was taken, the Cabinet was not informed about the need for purchasing the fuel from the open market. Instead, the Food and Civil Supplies department had said kerosene under the PDS will be used for the purpose, the letter noted.

This has put the scheme in limbo. It is not clear whether the government will resume supply of subsidised kerosene to fishermen from this month (June and July were off season for fishing). 

Official sources said the Fisheries and Food and Civil Supplies departments failed to inform the government on the non-availability of PDS kerosene for the scheme. There was shortage even for supplying 150 litres per person as earlier, as the previous BJP government had increased the quantum of kerosene for non-LPG consumers under the PDS in rural areas. 

When contacted, Fisheries Minister Abhayachandra Jain said he had spoken to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on the issue, and it will be discussed in the Cabinet meeting. “We need more money to implement the scheme as kerosene is not available under PDS,” he added.

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