In the name of food security

Punjab’s fields,mills and godowns are brimming with 172 lakh tonnes of wheat,rice,paddy. The wheat harvest is set to cross a record 120 lakh tonnes. One-third of it,worth hundreds of crores,will be stored unscientifically

Written by Sukhdeep Kaur | Chandigarh | Published: May 11, 2012 3:31:01 am

It is a good news that Punjab no longer cheers for. The state is headed for a record wheat harvest of over 120 lakh tonnes this Rabi season surpassing all previous milestones. It is almost 10 lakh tonnes higher than the previous record of 110 lakh tonnes. The high production has come from better yield per acre,an average of 7 per cent more,owing to cool weather conditions and timely winter rain that also brought down the incidence of pest attack and disease.

Punjab Food and Supplies Minister Adaish Paratap Singh Kairon describes the bumper crop as a challenge. “The crop will exceed our target of 115 lakh tonnes. We have risen to the challenge by making arrangements for more gunny bales for packaging the wheat and additional storage space in rice and sugar mills. But we also have to think ahead for paddy season as paddy,unlike wheat,cannot be stored in the open,” he says. Notably,the high minimum support price and state taxes have kept private traders away from mandis and almost the entire harvest in the last few years is being procured by the five state agencies and the Food Corporation of India.

The food department describes the storage crisis as worst ever. “The movement of foodstocks last year from Punjab was extremely slow. As on April 1,the day wheat procurement season begins,our opening stock was highest ever of 68 lakh tonnes against 51 lakh tonnes last year. Owing to shortage of storage space,we kept 20 lakh tonnes in unscientific storage last year. This year,we are likely to procure more than 120 lakh tonnes of wheat. We will have to store 30 to 35 lakh tonnes of wheat in unscientific storage such as rice and sugar mills,” says Secretary,Food and Civil Supply,D S Grewal.

Storage capacity

According to the Punjab FCI,the state’s total storage capacity is 204 lakh tonnes. Of this,there is covered storage for 100 lakh tonnes,while 104 lakh tonnes of grains can be kept in covered and plinth (CAP) storage,which is also termed as scientific. “The covered storage space of nearly 69 lakh tonnes is occupied by rice,while another 35 lakh tonnes are still to be milled and will be received from rice shellers in the coming months. So,100 lakh tonnes of space will be used up by rice alone. Almost the entire wheat will be on open plinths (CAP) and 30 to 35 lakh tonnes will be stacked up in sugar and rice mills,” says Punjab FCI senior regional manager Neelkanth.

Blaming Madhya Pradesh

For much of its current woes,Punjab blames Madhya Pradesh. “The state has almost doubled its wheat output from 40 lakh tonnes a few years back and 52 lakh tonnes last year to 80 lakh tonnes this year,surpassing even Haryana. But they did not project their estimates correctly while making advance bookings for gunny bales. This created shortage of gunny bags. Punjab was supplied bags for only 108 lakh tonnes against requisition for 115 lakh tonnes. Though we have been allowed to reuse the old bags,the conditions are cumbersome and we have requested the Union food ministry to abolish them,” says Kairon.

Food Secretary Grewal also blames MP for slow movement of foodstocks out of Punjab by the FCI. “The MP government announced Rs 100 bonus on wheat last year and even this year. Earlier,private traders preferred Madhya Pradesh. The bonus has not only ensured high production but private traders have also gone away. The FCI too gave preference to moving stocks out of MP than Punjab and Haryana. This has upset plans of other states,” he adds.

Neighbour in distress

It is not Punjab alone that is staring at a deepening storage crisis. Neighbour Haryana,too,had a high opening stock of 55 lakh MT wheat this year and has procured 70 lakh tonnes this season. There are reports of wheat rotting in its open plinths and godowns. Like Punjab,it too has to make covered space available for storing rice from October when paddy procurement season gets underway and rice shellers start milling of new paddy crop.

Wheat damage in 5 years

Over 90 per cent of wheat procured in the last five years in Punjab was stacked on brick plinths covered with tarpaulin. “In the last five years,97,000 tonnes of wheat in custody of Punjab’s five state agencies and FCI has been declared non-issuable for public distribution system. Of this,46,000 tonnes have been auctioned (to distilleries and for cattle feed). The remaining is being catagorised according to the level of damage,” says Punjab FCI Senior Regional Manager Neelkanth. Going by the current wheat MSP of Rs 1,285 per quintal,this translates into a loss of Rs 12.5 crore worth of the foodgrain.

Creating new godowns

The ever-deepening storage crisis had prompted the FCI to opt for the private entrepreneur godown scheme in states. Punjab had put up a figure of 72 lakh tonnes as the gap between its available and required storage capacity. Of this,52 lakh tonnes were agreed upon,but later brought down to 42 lakh tonnes. So far,only 7.5 lakh tonnes of godowns out of 42 lakh tonnes are near completion in the state. These too are yet to be taken over as inspection found many not meeting the FCI norms. “We are in need of storage space and have started the inspection of godowns. We have sent the list of lapses to the private entrepreneurs to make good before they can be taken over,” says the minister.

Waiting for Food Security Act

With almost all wheat-producing states dealing with storage woes,the bailout,says Punjab is either allowing exports or greater offtake from state by the FCI for the public distribution system. The latter would be a reality after the Food Security Act is rolled out. “We have brought our storage problem to the notice of the Union ministry every year. Punjab is doing an unenviable job,which is primarily the responsibility of the Government of India and the FCI,” adds Kairon.

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