The government is set to distribute 10-kilogramme rice for free to each of over one crore "ultra-poor and destitute families" ahead of Eid-ul-Azha.
The food aid will be given to 1,00,06,869 vulnerable group feeding (VGF) card holders across the country to mitigate the consequences of disasters like flood and coronavirus outbreak.
The disaster management and relief ministry yesterday sent a letter to all the offices concerned and asked the deputy commissioners of all districts to inform the respective lawmakers about the allocation.
The letter also asked the officials to collect the allocated rice by July 28.
"We have made the allocation so that people can have some food stocks during the festival," Disaster Management and Relief Secretary Md Mohsin told The Daily Star yesterday.
These ultra-poor and destitute people, especially those belonging to women-headed households, are at risk of starvation and malnutrition amid this pandemic, said government officials.
Most of the poor are facing financial hardship and struggling to maintain their families as coronavirus has battered the economy.
Many have lost their jobs or are experiencing pay cuts as most businesses and offices remained closed during the 66-day countrywide shutdown beginning at the end of March.
Businesses and offices started to open on limited scale last month but the momentum is yet to be back. Economists predict that it will be tough for the country to see economic normalcy soon.
According to the ministry letter, they have allocated 1,00,068 tonnes of rice for the all the 1,00,06,869 VGF card holders of the country.
Of the card holders, 87,79,203 are from 492 upazilas and 12,27,666 from 328 municipalities. A total of 87,792 tonnes of rice have been allocated for the upazilas and 1,227 tonnes for municipalities.
According to the letter, the ultra-poor and destitute families will need to meet at least four out of 12 criteria, to become eligible for receiving the assistance.
The criteria include landless households or those who have only homestead; households dependent on daily wage labour; households dependent on women's income or begging; households with no income-generating assets; households headed by widowed, divorced or separated women; households headed by a freedom fighter with disability, and households without access to two full meals a day for most of the year.
Only one beneficiary per household can receive the food aid, which will be distributed by local public representatives.
The letter also asked for redistribution of the VGF cards for unions and wards based on the 2011 census.
Secretary Mohsin said many card holders may have died and that is why officials concerned will recheck the list before handing over the assistance.
Speaking on the issue, noted economist Hossain Zillur Rahman said the government has been providing food aid to VGF cardholders for the last several years during the Eid festivals.
"But this year it was much needed as they are bearing the brunt of coronavirus crisis that has hit hard our economy," said Zillur, also executive chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre and a former caretaker government adviser.
He also suggested that urban slum dwellers should be provided with food for free as the VGF assistance is only for rural poor.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has so far announced stimulus packages, which is around 3.7 percent of Bangladesh's GDP, to offset the shock of Covid-19 pandemic in various sectors.
Finance ministry officials said in the current fiscal year, the government will distribute or sell at lower prices 31.37 lakh tonnes of food grains among the poor and low-income groups to protect them from food insecurity.
In the last fiscal year, it was 27.29 lakh tonnes.
This apart, the government also plans to expand the food friendly programme and Open Market Sales (OMS) of rice and flour at subsidised rates. It will sell 19.80 lakh tonnes of food grains in this fiscal year under the schemes, a significant rise from 14.97 lakh tonnes from the last fiscal.
In this fiscal, the government allocated Tk 6,176 crore as subsidy in food sector for sale of the food grains at lower prices or free distribution -- an increase from last fiscal's Tk 4,692 crore.