M A I N   N E W S

Godowns full but Pawar rules out wheat export
Can’t handle excess crop, warn Punjab, Haryana
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 18
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar today ruled out exporting surplus wheat lying in warehouses to reduce the stock. “There is no question of allowing wheat export until its prices, availability and improvement is stabilised,” said Pawar while talking to reporters on the sidelines of Kharif Conference here.

Interestingly, the Centre has said no to the wheat export despite surplus stocks and expected bumper crop this season. Add to it, the lack of adequate storage space, an issue particularly taken up by Punjab and Haryana that are demanding expeditious movement of wheat lying in their godowns to create space for the new produce.

“Wheat procurement will begin next month. There is absolutely no place for storage for the next crop. While the movement(of foodgrain) is still reasonable in Punjab, in Haryana it is much slower. Godowns are full and much more is lying on open plinths. Foodgrain lying in the open is much more prone to loss,” a senior official said.

Ironically, while consumers are reeling under double digit food inflation, excess stock continues to be stuck in states. Experts opine had this stock been moved to markets in time, food prices would have not have shot through the roof.

Pawar, however, has indicated that his ministry was trying to divert foodgrain to other states to create space for the new crop. “He is talking to ministers concerned in the two states and has also asked the Railways to arrange for wagons to take care of the problem of plenty that Punjab and Haryana will soon face,” said an official.

Meanwhile, the government would extend duty-free import of wheat till March 31 and step up efforts to enhance storage capacity.

With the National Food Security Bill that promises 25 kg wheat or rice per month to Below Poverty Line families in the pipeline, the government would rather hold on to its stocks than risk depletion and pay compensation to those who are entitled to be covered under the scheme.

Pawar has said the Bill would be posted on the Ministry website soon.

The Centre has a buffer stock of over 206 lakh tonnes of wheat and 256.6 lakh tonnes of rice, twice the amount of foodgrain required under the buffer stock norms for catering to PDS and maintaining prices.

The Agriculture Ministry has raised the production estimate for sugar in the current season and said the government had no plans to impose duty on imports of the sweetener. He also hoped that sugar production would cross 17 million tonnes during 2009-10, higher than earlier estimate of 16 million tonnes.

The government will continue with zero-duty on import of white sugar since the country's domestic annual requirement of sugar is around 22 to 23 MT.



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