Friday, April 23, 2010

Managing the plentiful

Government procured 25.4 million tones of wheat last year and this year it has been targeted at 26 mt, two thirds of this will be from Punjab and Haryana. But what makes no sense is that government is going ahead with procurement without proper storage facilities, as there exists a significant gap between procurement and storage capacity. Such huge stocks seem difficult to manage as well. FCI does not have adequate storage capacity to safely hold even half of the present inventories and is, therefore, forced to keep grains in the open, exposing them to the risk of rotting and other forms of losses.

What’s the meaning of increased area or production, when there is no provision/ infrastructure to store the buffer stocks? It is the utter waste of resources and adding to the burgeoning global problem of Hunger and malnutrition. But the real sufferers are the poor and hungry, who are not even able/ manage to have a square meal a day.

Food Corporation of India (FCI) is the major public sector authority to undertake purchase, storage, movement, transportation, distribution and sale of foodgrains on behalf of the Central Government. A lot of wastage can be seen in FCI storage facilities due to lack of improper and inefficient storage, transportation and upkeep. 72 lakh tonnes of wheat are lying in open warehouses of the Food Corporation of India in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, a huge quantity of which has got rotten. The grain has been lying outside, uncared for, for more than a year. As a result of this criminal negligence, the huge quantity of wheat and rice meant for PDS is lying outside, uncared for, for a substantial period and even for one or two years more till it rots and become unfit for consumption even by the cattle. This combined with the menace of hoarding and food inflation, makes it hard for even a middle class family to meet their food requirements leaving the market-dependent common man food insecure due to unaffordable prices. Recently it came to light that in Rajasthan FCI, godown and premises are used for storing liquor, and grains meant for PDS are dumped outside in the open, which is highly deplorable and a heinous act of condemnation.

Never before have we produced as much food as in the last few years and yet we never before have so many people gone hungry. It is not just happening in India, but worldwide. And it is not just production of food but the manner in which it gets distributed that is increasingly the subject of debate. Recently planning commission has categorized 372 million Indians as poor in the proposed National Food Security Act. It means that additional 97 million people would get subsidised food grains, once the proposed law is implemented, increasing the government's food subsidy bill from Rs 20,000 crore, to Rs 75,000 crore. So the grain requirement would sure go up and the procurement agencies need to strengthen the existing facilities accordingly. Every now and then govt reiterates that we have enough foodstocks, but still the millions of food needing hungry bellies goes to sleep even without a single meal. But for all the inadequacies, the central govt and ministry used to put the blamegame on the states.

Clearly, the govt and FCI has to go for storage capacity addition for ensuring the safe storage of the purchased grains. A review of food management policies is overdue. Minimum Support Price (MSP) has become the procurement price. The MSP should be true to its name a minimum price for all food growers and not just for a section of them in a few states. Even today, almost four decades after the so called green revolution,l Punjab and Haryana prides themselves as the food/ grain basket of the nation. But it should not be forgotten that all major schemes and incentives too reached them - either it was the inputs of green revolution or the MSP or, launch of any ambitious program. The FCI or any other government grain procuring agency has limited its activity to North India due to the reasons they can only answer. The grain procurement needs to be extended beyond the green belts of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP without going through the politics of subsidy and MSP. And with these existing inequalities in policy making and implementation, how can we talk of food security. The government’s food procurement policy should be need-based and at market-driven prices.

Professional management needs to be taken up for the buffer stock storage and its further movement with the involvement of Private players and corporate houses on PPP basis, in line with the ventures by the Adani Groups in Moga, Punjab and Kaithal, Haryana.

When everyone right from the Hon’ble President to PM and Mrs Gandhi speaks of hunger elimination, then why are not they serious enough about the issue, or it seems they are doing just the lip- service. What is more deplorable is that when people are dying of hunger and the prices of cereals have skyrocketed, utter neglect on the part of agencies and the authoritative govt, which is more interested in passing resolution on food security rather than securing the available food to the hunger and starving masses.

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