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The Shame Of Rotting Foodgrains

Updated: August 14, 2010 11:23 am

As per, even the Government figures, there are more than 42 crore poor below the poverty line, as compared to 41 crore people in 26 African countries. Despite, the loud proclamations, of the government and at least on paper launching numerous poverty alleviation programmes, food grain worth hundreds of crore goes waste, and still more quantity is stolen and diverted from the public distribution system.

                A report of 2006-2007, shows that in the previous three years food grain worth Rs 31,500 crore was siphoned off, the public distribution system (PDS), making it a become a state-sponsored munificence and generosity for black marketeers, corrupt babus, ration shop owners and others. The North-East is in a categorisation of its own. Of the eight states there, not a single grain of wheat supplied to Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Assam reached the targeted poor. Arunachal Pradesh can claim to be a little less corrupt as 96.2 per cent of its PDS wheat got diverted. Manipur took the cake as 97.7 per cent of its rice allocation was also siphoned off, with Nagaland following close behind at 88.6 per cent of rice being diverted. In 2006-07, Rs 3,289.71 crore worth of rice and wheat was stolen in UP. The corresponding figure in West Bengal was Rs 1,913.76 crore and in MP, Rs 1,038.69 crore.

                This is apart from the annual food subsidy bill crossing well over the Rs 50,000-crore mark as the gov-ernment has promised Rs 3 per kg of food-grain scheme to below poverty line (BPL) families. The government has promised a National Food Security Act, that would statutorily require supply of 25 kg of rice or wheat at Rs 3 per kg to BPL families. One would have no quarrel with the subsidies, if they reach, the intended, Below Poverty Line, recipients. When the prices are soaring, the government admitted to the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on food and prices, in July, 2010, that 61,000 tonnes of foodgrains, had rotted in its granaries as it was kept with poor, or literally no protection, for too long. Haryana and Punjab were unable to protect, the 15.5 million tonnes, of wheat lying, in the open, under tarpaulins.

                While Punjab, has admitted that 49,000 tonnes of wheat had gone waste, the Union government warned that 1.36 lakh tonnes of wheat that it procured in 2008-09 and 27.38 lakh tonnes of wheat procured in 2009-10 had exceeded the one-year period, the grains can ideally be stored without rotting. As the Government work is nobody’s work and the responsibility is amorphous, the extent of wastage of the money and resources, can be gauged from the following figures, 49,000 tonnes grain that has decayed in Punjab 7.1 million is the number of people the grain could have fed for a month had it been distributed 2.87 million tonnes, of grain, is at risk of decay, across the country, which can feed 140 million Indian for a month.

                Instead of action, the reaction of the central government is one meeting after the other, after the media had exposed the wastage. The problem is simply of inadequate storage, space, which is not restricted only to Punjab and Haryana. Food stock, primarily wheat and rice, are lying in open spaces all over the country, because the central government has not paid adequate attention to the creation of storage space. Indeed the Punjab government very rightly came out, with the view that it is better to distribute the same, than having rats and other creatures eat it. Government has publicly said that it has exhausted all its

warehouses and godowns. They are stocking, the food grains on roads and kuccha plinths and unscientific plinths.

                It says that even if there is an intention to hire, there is nothing available to hire, for the purpose of storage. Punjab has been repeatedly asking the central government to tell other states, to pick up their share of food grain, as its godowns are already full. The problem will aggravate in the years to come, as the population increases and more food grains will be required for them. Our country has godowns to store 16 million tonnes, plus storage of 12 millions tonnes, in the open when we need three times of Godowns.

                It is a paradox of not only waste, but utter callousness, in the times of shortage and rising prices. If three million tonnes of grains is damaged, and is unfit for human consumption, it can mean a loss of Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 crores annually. It costs the FCI Rs 15,000 to buy and store, a ton of wheat; Rs 19,000 for rice.

                This state of affairs exposes our government’s inability, to stockpile the precious plentiful food grains, as well as gross wastage of public funds and the poorest governance of the highest order. The question is how much food grains we waste every year. A reply to Right to Information query in 2008, revealed that between 1997 and 2007, more than 1.3 million tonnes of grain (1,30,000 truckloads) decayed in storage. The government spent Rs 259 crore just to get rid of the rotten food.

                Across our country, rot and rodents will claim 20 million tonnes, or a tenth of the total harvest. These lost grains are keeping millions hungry. Incidentally, India ranks 66 out of 88 countries on the 2008 Global Hunger Index. Even when we purchase any item, for our household use, we make sure, that there is a proper place for it, and are preserved well. On a personal level we are careful as to not to waste, even one rupee worth of the items or things. But as in the case of government, there is a collective and not individual responsibility, so the things remain in mess. The problem is incredibly simple, if the government wants to solve it. Instead of allowing the food to rot, why not create the facilities for storage in advance. If in a couple of months, superstructure, for common wealth games, at a cost of Rs, 35000 crore, can be set up, why not work on war footing to create the required infrastructure for the food without which nobody can survive?

                But this is possible, only if the Food Minister and Prime Minister take it a mission and cut down the red tape and circuitous journey of the government files at every step before any work is undertaken. Why not have an administrator with over-riding powers and responsibility to complete the project in one year? Not only responsibility should be given, but also the authority and accountability. A whiff of malpractice, and all such involved in this exercise would be clearly told, that they would be sent home. The Government must remember that it can do all things if only it wills them. If it does not deliver goods, it must remember, that the history never accepts excuses and there are not enough crutches in the world, for all the lame excuses The waste of the food grains is nothing short of a crime of the highest order and the sooner steps are taken to end it, the better it will be for our nation.

 By Joginder Singh

The Writer is former Director, CBI

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