Tuesday, June 25, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Huge stocks of foodgrains rot in nation’s food bowl
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 24
Huge stocks of foodgrains, procured by various state agencies and stacked in the open, will remain exposed to a vigorous monsoon which is likely to break over this region by the end of this week. No specific arrangements to save the food stocks from the rain have been made anywhere by any of the state or central agencies, including the Food Corporation of India (FCI).

In fact, even before the start of the monsoon, foodgrain stocks have already become unfit for human consumption. Exposed to the vagaries of the weather and lying unprotected from rodents, the stocks have started discolouring. At places, these are decaying .

In spite of the best efforts of the state government, the movement of foodgrains from its godowns has been far from satisfactory. This could be one reason why an acute shortage of storage space was felt before the procurement of wheat began in April this year.

Though no official figures were available immediately for losses on account of storage, these have certainly been more during the past two years than ever before. Huge stocks of foodgrains in the open in low-lying areas make the intentions of the state agencies suspect. For example, if one travels from Chandigarh to Ludhiana, one comes across several open stockhouses of foodgrains lying in the open.

Another reason has been the failure of millers to complete the custom milling of paddy. Originally, the milling was to be completed by March 31. Later the date was extended to June 30 and even now, the chances are that this deadline will be extended again. Equally serious has been the problem of space shortage in the Malwa region. That is why huge stocks were moved and stored in the Doaba region.

Investigations by The Tribune reveal that the FCI did not make adequate arrangements to store foodgrains under sheds. In fact, out of 31.79 lakh tonnes of wheat stored by the agency, 29.79 lakh tonnes is lying in the open, covered by just polythene sheets.

Officials in the regional office of the FCI here admit that wheat has been lying in the open for the past two to three years. Owing to poor demand in the food-deficit states, the agency has not succeeded in offloading its stocks. The officials, on condition of anonymity, disclosed that due to exposure to rain, floods and the summer heat, a large quantity of wheat has been already damaged, and is not fit for human consumption.

Interestingly, though according to the agency’s own guidelines, only wheat can be stored in the open, this time about 2.06 lakh tonnes of paddy is also lying in the open, and is likely to be damaged by rain. Though the problem of birds is not as severe as in some other states, say FCI employees, the tearing of polythene sheets by birds results in heavy damage to foodgrains.

Out of a total of 128 lakh tonnes of rice, say officials, 94.47 lakh tonnes is stored in fully covered godowns and is in good condition. This includes 24 lakh tonnes of the “boiled rice” variety, for which there is an insignificant demand in the region. The average offtake of foodgrains from the state is just 7-8 lakh tonnes, which implies that at the present pace, the FCI will take more than a year to clear the current stocks.

Officials are, however, optimistic about the construction of new godowns by private parties under the seven-year guarantee scheme. The FCI has arranged 16 lakh tonnes of additional storage capacity under that scheme against a target of 40.23 lakh tonnes. About 14 lakh tonnes of additional storage capacity would be arranged in the next two months as part of long- term planning, said another senior official.

JALANDHAR: Even as the June 30 cut-off date for the completion of the milling of paddy is approaching, huge stocks of the crop are lying in the open at a number of places in the Doaba region, where space constraints are said to be the major reason for the delay in the milling.

Official sources said there was space shortage in the Doaba region as huge stocks of paddy were shifted from the Malwa region. The milling of paddy stocks for the 2001-02 season was almost complete in Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr districts, whereas paddy is lying unmilled at a number of places in Jalandhar and Kapurthala districts. According to official estimates, about 8,000 MT of paddy is lying in Shahkot, followed by 4,000 MT in Nakodar, 4,000 MT in Phillaur and the same quantity in Jalandhar. 

Similarly, about 2,000 MT and about 1,000 MT of paddy is lying in Bholath and Sultanpur Lodhi townships. In Kapurthala large quantities of old stocks — about 7,000 MT — are also lying unmilled.

AMRITSAR: Due to apathy of both the state government and the district administration, large stocks of wheat have been lying in the mandis of the district. According to an estimate about 1.30 lakh tonnes of wheat has been stored in various godowns and in the open during the past three to four years.

Most of the wheat stocks stacked in the open are in Ranjit Avenue, a posh residential colony, where over 30,000 metric tonnes belonging to the Department of Food and Civil Supplies and PUNSUP have been lying there since last April/May last year. Wheat and paddy stocks are lying at Chheharta, which have not been moved for over four years. These are believed to have been declared unfit for human consumption.

Similarly, foodgrain stocks are lying in the open at Tarn Taran, Rayya, Jandiala Guru, Ajnala and Patti. The Tribune tried to speak to the Deputy Commissioner, Mr S.S. Puri, but he was unable to comment on the large stocks lying in the district.

ROPAR: The FCI has 54,047 metric tonnes of wheat stocks at Ropar, Morinda, Kurali, Chamkaur Sahib and Kharar. In Ropar, wheat has been stored on plinths in the open. The FCI has 36,500 tonnes of paddy in covered godowns in the district.

Mr K.L. Bhatia, Assistant Manager, Procurement, ruled out the possibility of damage to the foodgrains stored in the open, maintaining that these were well protected by polythene sheets.

In the case of PUNSUP, its entire stocks of wheat are lying in the open. It maintained that there had been no loss of foodgrains because of rain. Markfed, too, stores wheat in the open, but denies that there has been any damage to grain because of the weather. Markfed has 58,678 metric tonnes of wheat compared to 85,010 metric tonnes with PUNSUP in the district.

Mr Balwant Singh Brar, officiating DFCSC, says that all arrangements have been made to save the foodgrains from monsoon.

LUDHIANA: The storage situation in Ludhiana is no better than in the rest of the state. It is a common sight to see foodgrains stocked on plinths in the open covered with thick polythene sheets.

Lakhs of tonnes of wheat and paddy are awaiting disposal. In the case of paddy, milling came to a halt after The Tribune highlighted the scam wherein rice meant for export was diverted to the local markets with the alleged connivance of FCI officials. Interestingly, most of the millers here were not traceable for their views on the topic. But sources said that following a compromise, shelling started today and the stocks would be disposed of in the coming months. On the need of better storage facilities, the sources said that silos were a costly proposition and in view of the resource crunch, there were no other options under the existing system.

The District Food and Supplies Controller has 30,000 MT of wheat and nearly 4,000 MT of paddy waiting to be shelled. Punjab Agro has 1 lakh tonnes of wheat and more than 80,000 MT of paddy to be shelled. In addition, Punjab Agro despatches two to three “specials” — consisting of 2,200 — 2, 300 tonnes of wheat — to other states. Markfed has about 3.21 lakh MT of wheat lying in various stockyards along with 7,500 MT of paddy. Punsup has 2. 75 lakh MT of wheat and about 26,000 MT of paddy lying with it.

MANSA: According to the District Food and Supplies Controller, Mr Prem Kumar, about 9 lakh metric tonnes of foodgrains (wheat and paddy) are at present lying in the open. This includes stocks from the years 1999-2000, 2000-2001, 2001-2002 and wheat procured this season.

Mr Prem Kumar added that the pile-up of food stocks had been due to slow movement to other states. He said that although there had been some losses, there had been no rejection of foodgrain consignments sent by the department.

BATHINDA: Several lakh metric tonnes of foodgrain stocks are lying in the open. The exact figure, however, could not be ascertained.

A senior officer of the District Food and Supplies Department, on condition of anonymity revealed that over the years the weight of paddy stocks had gone down due to the loss of moisture content as these had been lying in the open.

With inputs from Prabhjot Singh & Manoj Kumar (Chandigarh), Varinder Singh (Jalandhar), Ashok Sethi (Amritsar), Sushil Goyal (Ropar), Amarjit Thind (Ludhiana), Vijay Mohan (Mansa) and Chander Parkash (Bathinda).

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