After suspending the Food-Friendly Programme due to dwindling food reserves last year, the government is now resuming the scheme to give rice to 2.5 crore ultra-poor people at Tk 10 a kg.
The government has been able to do this as food reserves are bouncing back following increased local procurement and imports.
Currently, the price of coarse rice is between Tk 44 and Tk 47 a kg in the market.
The ultra-poor people, about 50 lakh families, would be able to get the rice under the programme from next month and each family would get 30kg a month in March and April.
The programme was introduced in 2016 with twice-a-year sale -- September to November and March to April.
Due to severe drop in food reserves, as low as 1.3 lakh tonnes, the scheduled sale in September to November last year was suspended. The drop is widely blamed on flash floods and fungal attack that damaged boro crops.
Announcing the resumption of the programme at a press briefing at the food directorate yesterday, Food Minister Qamrul Islam said in the five months of sale this year, they would require 7.5 lakh tonnes of the staple and that they would not have any problems getting the rice.
He said they had to suspend the September-November sale last year as they could not collect the grains owing to crop loss. During the last boro season, the government could only get 2.5 lakh tonnes against a target of 12 lakh tonnes of rice from the local market.
The minister said the Food-Friendly Programme is a key initiative of the prime minister and it would not be suspended in future.
The minister said now they have a food stock of 14.2 lakh tonnes, including 10.40 lakh tonnes of rice.
The highest food reserve in the country's history was 16 lakh tonnes and he was hopeful that the record would be broken next month.
He said during the aman season, they had a target of procuring 3 lakh tonnes of rice, but the government later signed an agreement with millers for 6 lakh tonnes and 5.50 lakh tonnes of that was already in government silos.
According to the food minister, they had inked agreements for importing 15 lakh tonnes of rice and the import of 2 lakh tonnes was later cancelled. At least 8.2 lakh tonnes of that have reached government warehouses.
The minister said when the programme was first introduced in September 2016, it faced severe criticism for various irregularities. Later, 130 dealerships were cancelled, 2.56 lakh cards were scrapped, and 37 cases were filed.
More than Tk 10 lakh was realised in fines, he said.
He said now there are district- and upazila-wise lists of beneficiaries on the food directorate website.
Qamrul said from next month, Open Market Sale of rice would start throughout the country.