M A I N   N E W S

Prized red wheat finds no takers
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 11
It is a problem of plenty. The Centre, which has procured a record 219.60 lakh tonnes of wheat till date for the Central pool this year, is also saddled with around four to five lakh tonnes of red wheat, imported at exorbitant price, to contain the shortfall during the past two years and for which there are no takers.

According to official estimates there is around two lakh tonnes of imported wheat lying with Gujarat, around 80,000 tonnes with Madhya Pradesh, 20,000 tonnes with Mahrashtra and remaining with states like Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh

Lower procurement during the past two years forced the government to import wheat in a large quantity for meeting the buffer stock requirement. In 2006, 55 lakh tonnes of wheat was imported after procurement fell to 92 lakh tonnes. Last year, procurement was only 111 lakh tonnes, forcing the Centre to import 18 lakh tonnes at a higher cost.

The red wheat, imported from countries like Russia, Ukraine and Australia, cost the exchequer between $377 and $434 per tonne. The last tender accepted was for around $397-398 per tonne. In other words the government ended up paying about Rs 1,600 a quintal to foreign suppliers, 100 per cent more than it promised to Indian farmers.

The government’s decision to import wheat came under severe criticism. It was not just the money it paid. There were also allegations that government relaxed quality norms on ergots and certain weeds so that countries other than Australia could participate in tender.

The Centre justified the import saying that it was the need of the hour to feed the poor. However, states like Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra refused to accept the imported wheat calling it completely different from golden grain Indian palate was used to.

But it was not just about the colour and taste of the imported wheat. There were reports that the wheat was eaten by worms and full of dirt that could be termed as wheat shell rather than wheat. Red winter wheat imported from Australia was termed something that could at the maximum be used as animal feed.

This year the Centre’s wheat procurement reached an all-time high, surpassing the earlier record of 206.3 lakh tonnes achieved in 2001-02. More than 219 lakh tonnes of good quality golden wheat has been accumulated and the government has said that it would continue buying as long as farmers offered wheat at MSP that was raised to Rs 1,000 a quintal this year from Rs 750 level.

Add to this the wheat stock in Central pool of 55.49 lakh tonnes as on April 1 and the picture gets complete. The question being raised is how the government will manage all this tonnage though officials assure that there is adequate storage space available in the country.

Getting back to the imported wheat that is occupying precious storage space, sources say that since no one wants, it is likely to be given to foodgrain starved African countries, though there is no official statement on it.



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