Under CVC scanner, PWD projects worth
Rs 1,300 cr
Lokpal Bill panel meeting
Joshi’s actions against House code: Bansal
Andhra MLA still critical
New Delhi, May 1
According to a recent report on deficiencies in Games-related works by Chief Technical Examination wing of the CVC, higher rates, poor quality control and substandard material, among others, were observed in the PWD-approved projects worth Rs 1,315.66 crore.
The anti-corruption watchdog has found deficiencies in 26 works involving Rs 3,316.58 crore which were carried out by Central and Delhi Governments’ civic and construction agencies.
Besides, the report lists four works costing Rs 364.11 crore carried out by the MCD, three valuing Rs 221.22 crore by the NDMC and two each worth Rs 379.93 crore and Rs 105.80 crore, respectively, by the CPWD and the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), among others, for serious deficiencies.
The CVC has also found serious irregularities in two projects worth Rs 193.16 crore implemented by the DDA and one valuing Rs 18.37 crore by RITES, a Government of India enterprise.
It also blamed the Suresh Kalmadi-led Games Organising Committee for “wrongfully moulding eligibility criteria” in tenders to pave the way for certain private firms to help them make profit out of the projects worth Rs 718.33 crore on ticketing, accreditation card work, purchase of fitness equipment, overlays and other works.
The CTE wing blamed the PWD for delay in the work of construction of grade separator at Rajaram Kohli Marg intersection and Shastri Nagar intersection in East Delhi at a cost of Rs 214.57 crore.
It said the work, which was approved by the PWD in April 2007, started in October 2007 and that too at higher rates. Moreover, all six samples of concrete core failed the test.
Blaming the MCD for slow progress of work of covering Sunahari Nallah from Lala Lajpat Rai Marg at a cost of Rs 303.95 crore, the CVC said, “Deduction on account of escalation due to decrease in rate of reinforcement was not done properly.”
Meanwhile, sources said the PWD would soon send a detailed report to the CVC as response to the findings of the central investigating agency. — PTI
Lokpal Bill panel meeting
New Delhi, May 1
All the eight draft bills will form a part of discussion tomorrow, sources said. The best of the various versions can be taken out by the members of the committee that has five union ministers and five members of the civil society led by social activist Anna Hazare.
The civil society members have their own version of the Jan Lokpal Bill. The government wants a detailed discussion as the previous drafts have the ‘collective wisdom’ of various elected representatives over the years. Besides, each nuance and ramification of each clause has been discussed threadbare.
The joint drafting committee will also discuss the latest version of the Jan Lokpal Bill prepared by Anna Hazare’s team. Ahead of the meeting, chairman of the committee and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will hold a strategy session with government representatives to firm up the Centre’s stand on the latest draft of the Bill which, among other things, envisages a provision empowering the office of the Lokpal to intercept telephone conversations.
The latest version has a new clause, Clause 13-C, which gives wide powers to “an appropriate bench of the Lokpal” to “approve interception and monitoring of messages or data or voice transmitted through telephones, internet or any other medium as covered under the India Telegraph Act, read with Information and Technology Act 2000.”
At present, the powers to intercept telephonic communications is vested with the Home Ministry and the Union Home Secretary clears the request made by security agencies at the Central level. At the states, home secretary is empowered to allow interception.
Joshi’s actions against House code: Bansal
New Delhi, May 1
Bansal reminded Joshi that he had allowed voting in the PAC on April 15. “However, he chose to walk out when members demanded voting on April 28. The member seeking voting had a constitutional right that was snatched away by Joshi,” Bansal said. Joshi at a press conference yesterday had asserted that the rejection of his draft report by a majority of members was unconstitutional. “Several members had demanded a division but some others had opposed it too. The numbers are not important, the process is. I don’t have to go by a majority.... They cannot reject the report”, Joshi was quoted as saying.
“Yesterday, Joshi said the process was important, and the numbers were not, whereas the truth is that the process prescribed by the rules gives importance to numbers in no uncertain terms”, Bansal said. In his anxiety to get the PAC stamp of approval on his draft report, Joshi has chosen to mislead the public, he added.
Bansal also slammed Joshi for “sharing details of each PAC sitting with the media, despite rules mandating that the sittings should be held in private”.
Andhra MLA still critical
Hyderabad, May 1 Owaisi, 39, was shot at and knifed by his political rivals in the old city yesterday. He suffered three bullet injuries, besides knife injuries on hand and chest. Doctors have performed a second surgery on him. A medical bulletin issued by Care Hospital in Banjara Hills, where Owais was shifted last night, said was put on ventilator support to aid respiratory functioning.
Hyderabad, May 1
Owaisi, 39, was shot at and knifed by his political rivals in the old city yesterday. He suffered three bullet injuries, besides knife injuries on hand and chest. Doctors have performed a second surgery on him.
A medical bulletin issued by Care Hospital in Banjara Hills, where Owais was shifted last night, said was put on ventilator support to aid respiratory functioning. — PTI
New Delhi, May 1
The CBI has recorded the statement of an employee of Green House Promoters Private Limited whose managing director Batcha had fired over 40 employees on the recommendation of Balwa.
Batcha, who was interrogated by the CBI, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Chennai in March.
His personal assistant M Kevin Amritraj told the agency that the employees were removed in furtherance of some plan or tie-up between the two firms.
“On being asked about the relation between Green House Promoters and DB Group of Mumbai, I state that many officials of Green House Promoters were interviewed by a team of DB Realty in late 2008 and on their recommendations, around 42 employees were removed by Green House Promoters. It was in connection with some plan of joint venture or some other arrangement/tie-up between Green House Promoters and DB Group,” Amritraj said.
He said Rs 1.25 crore was transferred by Eterna Developers Private Limited, a DB Group firm, to Green House Promoters. — PTI
A problem of plenty plagues India’s granary. Punjab, which ushered in the green revolution and rode on its back to take up the responsibility of contributing the maximum to the national grain pool, is witnessing a problrm of sorts after being deluged with more grain that it can handle.
Punjab’s procurement procedure, which witnesses around 100 lakh metric tonnes of wheat and 135 lakh mt of paddy being procured every year in a time span of one month each, is nothing short of a miracle. More than Rs 20,000 crore is spent on procuring both commodities, which are then supposed to be stored in the state for some time before being moved to states where they are consumed.
While procurement this year continues with great gusto with the state expected to procure a record 110 lakh mt of wheat against 102 lakh mt procured last year, storage and movement of foodgrain is progressively going from bad to worse due to lack on any clear cut policy on the same.
Once the procurement is done, wheat is in the custody of the state government till the Food Corporation of India (FCI) moves it out. This storage, which was once for a maximum of around one year, is now stretching to two to three years for part of the produce. Half of the wheat is always lying in the state when the fresh crop comes in after one year. This year 46 lakh tonnes was lying in the state when procurement of the fresh crop started last month.
Punjab is ill-prepared to handle this situation. As much as 90 per cent of the wheat stock is stored in the open because rice occupies most of the covered godowns, which have a total storage capacity of 94 lakh mt. Most of the wheat produce is stored on wooden plinths and covered with tarpaulin. While this form of storage holds for one year, there are chances of seepage and damage in case this period is extended as it invariably is.
However, even more dangerous is the fact that 20 lakh tonnes of wheat is stored on ‘kutcha’ floors without any plinths or adjoining drains. This wheat is susceptible to damage and even rotting. While the State Food and Civil Supplies department estimates that around 3 per cent of the total wheat stock could be damaged, Punjab Agriculture University Vice Chancellor Dr MS Kang pegged this at around 15 per cent recently.
The Centre on its part has identified the necessity to create an additional 50 lakh mt of covered storage in the state for wheat. This scheme, however, also did not get onto a good start due to high land costs in the state. The Centre worked out an average lease rate of Rs 5 per quintal per month for storing foodgrain at the national level. However, the tenders received in Punjab quoted a higher rate due to which only 13 lakh mt of covered storage has been finalised. Now many of the same entrepreneurs who had quoted higher rates but are now ready to work at the average rate want to construct another 22 lakh mt of covered storage.
Despite an appeal by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and earlier intervention by Food and Civil Supplies Minister Adesh Partap Kairon to the Centre to give a go-ahead to these entrepreneurs, the issue hangs fire. New tenders for covered storage would take another six months to finalise. Kairon disclosed that the state had facilitated initiation of the Private Entrepreneur Godown (PEG) scheme which was launched in 2008 despite extreme reluctance from the private sector and asserted that now that the sector had responded to the scheme the Centre should implement it forthwith.
With so much uncertainty in the air, the state is dreading the forthcoming paddy procurement season in October. This is because rice milling has been unusually slow with only 40 per cent of the 80 lakh tonnes of rice due for delivery to the FCI by rice millers being delivered till now. This means a large part of last year’s paddy could be still in covered godowns when the fresh stock comes into the market in October.
Keeping this in mind, the state has pressed the panic button and is demanding an increase in foodgrain movement out of the state stressing this year’s problems are peculiar and that they would lead to chaos if not addressed immediately. The FCI on its part claims it is abreast of the situation and that against 154 lakh mt of food grain moved out of the state last year, it has moved out 164 lakh mt this year.
While increasing covered storage is one way of stopping the wheat from rotting, experts feel creation of silos, which allow for long-term wheat storage, is the best solution to the crisis. The FCI has made a beginning by facilitating creation of one silo with a capacity to store 2 lakh mt of foodgrain at Moga and another with a capacity of 50,000 tonnes has come up at Amritsar.
State Food and Civil Supplies Secretary DS Grewal maintains there is need for clarity on Punjab’s responsibility. “Do we produce foodgrain only or do we keep stock also”. He said if the latter also held true as was happening at the ground level, the Centre needed to frame a short, medium and long-term storage policy. He said construction of silos was in national interest as part of a long-term storage policy and that as much as 25 lakh mt of foodgrain could be stored in Punjab under this policy. “This alone will solve the issue of storage as well as ensure foodgrain do not go waste due to damage and decay,” he added.
Record yield, but climatic changes worrying
Punjab is heading towards record production of wheat this season. Reports emerging from Malwa, Majha and Doaba regions have clearly indicated that the state’s wheat production would touch a figure of 160 lakh tonnes of which 110 lakh may be set aside for the central pool. Earlier, the maximum production of wheat was 159.10 lakh tonnes recorded in 1999-2000. In fact, during a visit to the countryside, one gets the impression that the state has been virtually flooded with wheat this year.
The total wheat production in the country has been pegged at about 840 lakh tonnes against last year’s figure of about 800 lakh tonnes. As far as total wheat production is concerned, Punjab is the second largest wheat producing province in the country. Its number comes after Uttar Pradesh. Other states which have started doing well in wheat production include Haryana and Madhya Pradesh and even some parts of Rajasthan. The Madhya Pradesh Government gives bonus to farmers for enhancing wheat production.
It is to Punjab’s credit that it is number one in the contribution of wheat to the central pool and thereby to national food security. Of the proposed procurement of 110 lakh tonnes already, about 88 lakh tonnes of wheat has been procured during the last 15 days for central pool. Haryana will contribute about 65 lakh tonnes. Punjab is a heavily wheat and rice surplus state. Its farmers retain about 50 lakh tonnes of wheat for personal consumption within the state and to meet other requirements such as seed and cattlefeed. Punjab’s average contribution to the central pool has remained about 60 per cent during the past several years.
Punjab is a state the climate and soil texture of which is highly suitable to the wheat crop. It fits well in the over-all crop culture of the state. The same, however, cannot be said of paddy.
The region has been growing wheat varieties, like the Mexican ones, the genetic past of which is related to the cold region. That is why the wheat in the state is grown during the winter.
Clearly, the weather has been playing a major role in determining the wheat production in this part of the country. This year, the prolonged winter season made the wheat crop flourish and the yield was high. That also happened in 1999 when good rain in October and relatively cool February-March in 2000 had resulted in a bumper wheat crop. This year, the relatively low temperature continued till the first week of April when the wheat was at the ripening stage.
Such weather proved good for the growth of grains in the wheat.
However, it delayed the harvesting of the crop for about two weeks. Harvesting started in right earnest after April 15. The peak wheat harvesting season this year has been shortened to 20 days from 35 days and it led to flooding of the grain markets putting an additional back-breaking burden on procurement agencies to manage the huge stocks of wheat arriving in the markets. During the last week of April, a day’s accumulated arrival in the entire state had gone beyond 8 lakh tonnes, which is also a record.
However, year-to-year climatic variations have become a cause of worry for agriculture experts. ?The Punjab Agricultural University in collaboration with the state Agriculture Department is working to meet the challenges thrown up by climatic changes. Efforts are on to develop wheat varieties conducive and resistant to variations in temperature especially during the months of February and March when the wheat crop reaches the critical stage of growth,” said Dr Balwinder Singh, Director, Agriculture Department.
But the climatic fluctuations especially global warming is not the only challenge that stares in the face of the department and farmers. Shortage of labour at the time of wheat harvesting is another latest development. Harvesting cost during the past few years has gone up substantially. Earlier, the overall harvesting cost used to be below Rs 1,000 per acre but it has gone up to Rs 3,000 per acre in case of manual harvesting.
However, the increasing rate of wheat chaff has been compensating the farmers for increased labour rates. The labour inflow from Bihar and other states is likely to further dry up in years to come in case the Left Front government is replaced by a Mamata Banerjee-led coalition in the next few weeks.
“There will be a fillip to industrial development if Mamata Banerjee forms the government in West Bengal. That will result in the flow of labour from Bihar to West Bengal, thus drying the flow to Punjab”, said Dr MS Sidhu, Professor of Economics, PAU.
Case for export of wheat
In view of the existing comfortable level of buffer stock of wheat and rice, there is a clear case for their export.On April 1 this year, the available buffer stock at the national level was of 153 lakh tonnes of wheat and 299 lakh tonnes of rice against the revised national norm of 70 lakh of wheat and 142 lakh tonnes of rice respectively. In other words, the availability of wheat and rice is more than double the total requircement in the buffer stock. About 50 lakh tonnes of wheat can be easily exported. Price level in the international market is said to be favourable for its export. Union Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar has already stated that wheat and rice should be exported to make space available for stacking the fresh wheat crop. The movement of wheat from Punjab to the deficit states has slowed in the past few years. Its main reason is that states like MP and Uttar Pradesh have become self sufficient to some extent as far as local consumption of wheat is concerned. In South, the production of rice has also gone up and most of the rice eating states have also become self dependent to the large extent. Such a scenario has affected the movement of wheat to other parts of the country from Punjab. In case, 50 lakh tonnes of wheat is exported, procurement agencies would become comfortable to stack fresh grains of wheat. However, the Union Government, which is focusing the National Food Security Act, has assessed that once the distribution of wheat under this Act begins, there will be need for additional stock of wheat for public distribution. To avoid any awkward situation in this regard, the Union Government is reluctant to order the export of wheat and rice. Apart from it, the Union Government is apprehensive about the rise of food inflation once the proposal for export is cleared.
In view of the existing comfortable level of buffer stock of wheat and rice, there is a clear case for their export.On April 1 this year, the available buffer stock at the national level was of 153 lakh tonnes of wheat and 299 lakh tonnes of rice against the revised national norm of 70 lakh of wheat and 142 lakh tonnes of rice respectively. In other words, the availability of wheat and rice is more than double the total requircement in the buffer stock.
About 50 lakh tonnes of wheat can be easily exported. Price level in the international market is said to be favourable for its export. Union Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar has already stated that wheat and rice should be exported to make space available for stacking the fresh wheat crop. The movement of wheat from Punjab to the deficit states has slowed in the past few years. Its main reason is that states like MP and Uttar Pradesh have become self sufficient to some extent as far as local consumption of wheat is concerned. In South, the production of rice has also gone up and most of the rice eating states have also become self dependent to the large extent. Such a scenario has affected the movement of wheat to other parts of the country from Punjab. In case, 50 lakh tonnes of wheat is exported, procurement agencies would become comfortable to stack fresh grains of wheat.
However, the Union Government, which is focusing the National Food Security Act, has assessed that once the distribution of wheat under this Act begins, there will be need for additional stock of wheat for public distribution. To avoid any awkward situation in this regard, the Union Government is reluctant to order the export of wheat
and rice. Apart from it, the Union Government is apprehensive about the rise of food inflation once the proposal for export is cleared.
Despite initial hiccups, wheat arrivals pick up in Haryana
As the wheat procurement season progressed this year, alarm bells started ringing in the corridors of the Union Food Ministry. The ministry mandarins were perplexed why procurement figures this year were less than those of last year during the corresponding period. They feared that the predictions of a record wheat crop this year might be belied. Their fears were further compounded when they learnt that yellow rust had hit the standing wheat crop in parts of Haryana
Their fears were not misplaced. Last year, as soon as the procurement season began on April 1, the Haryana mandis witnessed a great rush of farmers bringing their crop for sale. Due to hot conditions prevalent in February and March, the crop had matured early. This year the first two weeks of April saw very small quantities of wheat being brought to the mandis. The untimely rains and hailstorms in certain parts of Haryana further added to their fears.
However, experts in the Haryana Agriculture Department were confident that the state would witness a record production of wheat. They knew that the Food Ministry officials were jittery because they were not aware of ground realities. The state officials were blissfully conscious that the favourable weather conditions in March might have delayed the harvest of wheat crop by about a fortnight, but they were good for the grain size and weight.
About a week after Baisakhi, which normally marks the start of harvesting of wheat in Haryana and Punjab, the arrivals of wheat picked up in the Haryana mandis. Now the arrivals are at their peak. The state mandis are receiving on an average about 2.2 lakh MT of wheat every day.
Last year the state had produced about 105 lakh MT of wheat, out of which over 64 lakh MT was procured by official agencies. Normally an estimated 55 per cent of the total wheat crop is brought to the mandis by the farmers. The rest is kept by them for their personal consumption or is sold outside the mandis.
This year the state expects a production of about 115 lakh MT of wheat. So far about 58 lakh MT has been procured by the official agencies. The cool weather in March also had its negative impact in parts of Haryana. Yellow rust, normally seen in hilly areas, struck the standing wheat crop in Yamunanagar, Ambala, Karnal and Kurukshetra districts. But it was controlled before it could cause much damage.
This year there is an increase in area under wheat cultivation in the state. Against 24.92 lakh hectares last year, this year wheat was sown in about 25.12 lakh hectares. The favourable weather conditions have also pushed up the productivity of wheat in the state. Last year per hectare productivity of wheat was 42.13 quintals. This year it is expected to be about 47 quintals per hectare.
The procurement agencies are storing wheat at all conceivable places. In Kurukshetra, wheat has been stacked even in the parking of the Brahamasarovar! The Food Corporation of India (FCI), the ultimate custodian of the procured wheat, is not storing it in its godowns as it wants to keep them empty for paddy. Also these days, in the name of economy, the FCI is more interested in storing foodgrain in private godowns than in its own godowns. Its officials say the labour cost of storing the foodgrain in the FCI godowns comes out to be more as compared to the private godowns.
Still when it comes to encouraging private parties to construct godowns, the FCI, despite its declared scheme, creates hurdles in their path. It is learnt that a number of private parties, which had offered to construct godowns for renting them out to the FCI, are now having second thoughts on their offer. Reason? “Non-cooperative attitude of the FCI”, they allege.
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