Monday, August 15th, 2022 21:27:19

Rotting Food Grains: Wrong Agenda

Updated: August 4, 2012 2:15 pm

In the play Hamlet, one of the characters mentions about something rotten in the State of Denmark. When this observation was made, Shakespeare did not have in mind the Rotten State of India, and more than that, the rotting food grains, for millions of dollars, which could feed under-nourished and starving 140 million Indians for a month.

In fact in August 2010, the Supreme Court of India had asked the government to give away food grains which were rotting due to neglect, to the poor at “low cost or no cost”.

This would have given relief to the country’s starving millions and also solved the government’s problem of preserving food grains after record procurement.

The following facts speak for themselves for the food storage of the 59 million tonnes of grain stored by the FCI and state agencies across India: 42 million tonnes is in covered buildings. Grain stored under tarpaulin has been rising. It was 9.4 million tonnes in 2008; 16 million tonnes in 2009 and 17.8 million tonnes in 2010 (as on June 1).

The Food Corporation of India had reported to Food Ministry in June 2012 that the total stocks across the country in the central pool are expected to be an all-time record of 750.17 lakh tonnes—almost one lakh tonne more than last year. It also added: “FCI and state agencies will neither have the storage capacity nor the manpower to manage such a substantial increase in stock in central pool.” It expected that by the beginning of June 2012, 472.9 lakh tonnes of grain would be in granaries of FCI and the state governments in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana alone. This is 69 lakh tonnes more than what was kept in these states, at the same time, last year. It is clear that FCI and the state agencies will be faced with unprecedented problems of shortage of storage capacity resulting in large stock of wheat in CAP (kept in open plinths covered with tarpaulin) in Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. It is also possible that substantial quantity may have to be stored in unscientific plinths. By government standards, no grain should be left out in the open for more than a            year.

When monsoon begins to lash across the country in 2012, 231.82 lakh tonnes of wheat will be lying under the sun on the plinths in three states. In order to prevent damage to stocks (especially stock in CAP stored for more than one year), it is necessary that allocation of food grain to state governments is suitably enhanced.”

The GoM on food has rejected the Food Ministry’s proposal to distribute more grains to states citing fiscal constraints, despite FCI warning the grains could literally rot in the open godowns of the state government and the Centre in the three states when monsoon hits the country. This has been stressed by the Punjab Chief Minister Badal in July 2012.

Government’s approach to the country’s hungry millions, to say the least, is callous. It does not even know, for certain, as to how many poor are there in the country, who would welcome free food grains, which is rotting now and would be unfit for human consumption.

The Planning Commission has accepted the Tendulkar Committee report which holds 37 per cent of people in India below the poverty line, an increase of 10 per cent. Two other reports of the government appointed committees have pegged poverty at much higher levels. The Arjun Sengupta report says 77 per cent of Indians live on less than Rs 20 a day while the NC Saxena Committee report says 50 per cent of people live below poverty.

The present food subsidy bill is about Rs 55,000 crore and is likely to go up, by over four times, when the right to food becomes law. If one goes by the figures of Transparency International, which has given 32 marks out of 100 to India in Corruption Perception Index, nearly 68 per cent of the subsidy is siphoned off both in kind and cash and sold in black market.

While people die of hunger, the government sits atop a mountain of food grains. The storage facilities of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) are full of grains, some of it rotting and rat-infested and some of the stocks are likely to reach that state soon.

A Parliamentary Committee had observed that the rotten food grain was so rotten that even the animals would not eat it and it better be dumped in the sea. A crazy suggestion on the face of it, but what else could the Parliamentary Committee do, if the government could not construct or hire storage space?

A wag put it, that so much is the quantity of food kept in the open, that if each bag was stacked one upon the other, there was no need to launch a scientific expedition to put a man on the moon. You could simply walk to the moon and come back, on the food grain bags

Another report of the Standing Committee of Parliament estimated that the government was spending Rs 6,200 crore every year to maintain these food stocks.

The Union Minister of Food, admitted as late as on June 20, 2012, that over 6.6 million tonnes of wheat worth over Rs 1,100 crore of the government stock lying in the open run high risk of damages during the monsoon season. At present, the government has a stock of 82.3 million tonnes against the storage capacity of 64 million tonnes. Of 50 million tonnes of wheat procured by the government, 27 million tonnes is kept in the open, of which 6.6 million tonnes is lying in an unscientific way.

The wastage of food grains and its rotting is due to the negligence of the government in not having any storage facilities worth the name. It is following the policy of the dog in the manger—not giving the food grain to the poorest of the poor free of cost, as well as not storing, what it already has in its kitty. It is a common sense that unless we keep our goods and articles safe in our own place, they are likely to be stolen. The problem of the government is that, left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Even if it knows, it lacks the will to do something concrete and differentiate between inefficiency and the lack of will to execute.

 By Joginder Singh

(The author is former Director, CBI)

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