M A I N   N E W S

‘Unfit’ atta on sale
Flour millers told to be vigilant
A. S. Prashar
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, July 17
Nearly six lakh tonnes of old damaged wheat procured by official agencies in Punjab and Haryana, declared unfit for human consumption, is allegedly finding its way into human stomachs, thanks to the general apathy of the official machinery and greed of the traders.

Valued at nearly Rs 500 crore, the damaged wheat which is discoloured and weevil-infested is allegedly being mixed with fresh wheat and broken rice and supplied to flour mills and chakkis who grind it into atta and dispatch it to retailers in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh for sale to the general public. Broken rice makes the atta look more white and fresh. In the process, they are making huge profits at the cost of human health because the damaged wheat is being sold between Rs 120 and Rs 400 per quintal while the fresh wheat is ruling at Rs 750 per quintal in the open market these days.

Interestingly, the first hue and cry about this dangerous phenomenon has been raised by the traders themselves. Mr Vinod Kapoor, past president of the Roller Flour Millers Association of India, has warned roller flour millers against this practice and asked its members to be extra vigilant and report unscrupulous elements to the police.

In Chandigarh, the local chapter of the Environment Society of India led a protest march against this practice some time ago. Now the Chandigarh and Panchkula chapter of the Roller Flour Millers Association has also joined the drive against it. According to Mr Vinod Mittal, President of the Chandigarh Flour Millers Association, it has asked its members to deposit a sum of Rs 1 lakh each with the association as a guarantee of good conduct. Those found indulging in unscrupulous activities would be censured and their deposit forfeited.

It has also formed vigilance committees which are going round the premises of roller flour mills and making sure that nothing unscrupulous takes place. In one such checking, a member was caught but he was let off with a warning when he promised not to mill any more damaged wheat stocks.

Trade sources say the damaged wheat stocks had been lying with official procurement agencies in Punjab and Haryana for the past three to six years because the Food Corporation of India refused to accept them as they did not correspond to the specifications. The total quantity of damaged wheat was estimated to be nearly two lakh tonnes in Haryana and about four lakh tonnes in Punjab. After a great deal of deliberations between the official procurement agencies, state governments and the Union Food Ministry it, was decided to dispose off these stocks in the open market through auction or tender to specific units holding license to manufacture animal feed.

The widespread malpractice has also forced the Punjab government to sit up and take notice. Mr P.K. Verma, Principal Secretary, Food, Punjab, convened a meeting of the department officials concerned some time ago to take measures to tackle the problem. It was decided that all such stocks would be stamped as "unfit for human consumption". A dispersal report would be obtained and the next lot of wheat would be released to the traders only after the dispersal report is found to be satisfactory. The Deputy Commissioners have also been asked to set up committees consisting of health and food officials to undertake regular checking of chakkis and flour mills in their areas.

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