The government will provide food aid to 1.25 crore families during the one-week lockdown starting from 14 April.
Each family will be given 10kg of rice, 1kg of pulses, one litre of soybean oil, 1kg of salt and 4kg of potatoes under the "humanitarian food aid". If the lockdown is extended further, the families will get the food assistance twice a month.
For this initiative, the government has to spend Tk1,750 crore a month, said State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Md Enamur Rahman.
The matter will be finalised soon at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, he told The Business Standard yesterday.
Meanwhile, the initiative taken by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief to disburse Tk450 in cash to over 1 crore families having Vulnerable Group Feeding cards on the occasion of Ramadan was postponed on Sunday.
Besides, the ministry has also suspended the distribution of Tk121 crore as General Relief (GR) to provide financial assistance to the destitute at the district level.
Enamur Rahman said VGF and GR have been suspended for the time being due to the decision to provide humanitarian food assistance during lockdown. This money can be given as cash assistance for Eid-ul-Fitr. The prime minister will give us further instructions in this regard.
"We provided food aid to 1.25 crore poor and jobless families during the lockdown last year. The government has a list of those families," the state minister said.
Even if the lockdown is extended further the food aid will continue. In a nutshell, the families will get food aid twice a month during the lockdown. The government has planned to provide food assistance to five crore people during the lockdown, he added.
A number of workers in various sectors, including transport workers, have been laid off since the lockdown began on 5 April to prevent the Covid-19 second wave. Economists recommended food aid and cash assistance for them.
Economists also highlighted the issue at a pre-budget meeting with Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Sunday.
At the end of the meeting, the finance minister told reporters that the prime minister herself had decided on the incentives and assistance during the Covid-19 period.
Ahsan H Mansoor, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, praised the government's plan to provide food aid to the poor in the ongoing lockdown.
He told The Business Standard that it was the government's moral responsibility to provide food to the poor during the lockdown. We have also advised the government in this regard.
After Covid-19 hit the country last year, the government had allocated Tk2,500 crore to provide food aid to the poor for three months during the 66-day public holiday from March to May. At that time, the government distributed rice, pulses, salt, oil and potatoes as food aid to the poor families.
According to the Finance Division, Tk1,068 crore has been spent out of that allocation till last February.
According to ministry officials, Union Parishads, municipalities and city corporations provided lists of poor and jobless people and the food aid was distributed to 1.25 crore people across the country in the last lockdown.
Since the pandemic started in the country in March last year, in addition to food assistance to the unemployed poor, the government has allocated Tk8,043 crore under six incentive packages to ensure food and social security for the poor under various initiatives.
These include the prime minister's Eid gift of Tk2,500 to five million unemployed poor people, enhancing social security coverage, three months' allowance of Tk3,000 to unemployed workers, distribution of rice at Tk10 per kg and increasing the amount of allowance for poor, elderly and widows.
According to the Finance Division, Tk3,008 crore has been spent under these programmes till last February.
The entire expenditure of Tk770 crore has been spent on distributing rice at the rate of only Tk10 per kg.
Apart from these, Tk23 crore out of Tk815 crore allocated to increase the coverage of social security programmes, Tk880 crore out of Tk1,258 crore allocated for Eid gifts to 50 lakh families, Tk5 crore out of the Tk1,500 crore fund for providing allowances to unemployed workers in the readymade garments, leather and footwear industries, Tk262 crore has been spent out of the Tk1,200 crore allocated to increase the number of poor elderly and widows.