As millions of Indians surviving on less that R20 a day starve, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) lost rice and wheat worth R2,050 crore in transit and storage in the last three years, HT has come to know under the right to information act.
According to the government-owned agency, 11,07,638.8 metric tonnes (MT) of foodgrains in its godowns have been lost to wastage or pilferage since 2010. The math works out to almost Rs. 700 crore a year in grains that could otherwise feed at least 10 million hungry people for a few weeks.
This has wider implications, most specifically for the Centre’s food security law. The FCI is the nodal agency for procurement and distribution of grains across the country and would be instrumental in implementing the welfare scheme.
According to Tariq Anwar, union minister of state for agriculture and food processing, 30% of foodgrains supplied through the public distribution system (PDS) is lost every year.
“While overall figures for storage losses may be within acceptable international norms, it is unconscionable that in a country like India, which has a huge problem of malnutrition and starvation, even a single grain of food is wasted,” said Biraj Patnaik, principal adviser in the office of the Supreme Court commissioners on right to food. “If the problems with food wastage persist, the Supreme Court may be forced to intervene again and direct the central government to distribute it at subsidised rates to the poor, as it had done a year back.”
One of the main problems is lack of storage space, as is seen in Bihar. According to Dr Mangla Rai, agriculture advisor to chief minister Nitish Kumar, the FCI has a storage capacity of 6 lakh MT in the state against a monthly allocation of 2.80 lakh MT of PDS foodgrains.
“Bihar’s actual storage requirement is 45 lakh MT. The space crunch is leading to immense waste as stacks of foodgrains lie in the open exposed to the elements,” said Pramod Kumar Singh, convenor of the Hunger-Free Bihar Campaign.
Food and civil supply minister Shyam Rajak pointed to another problem — delayed procurement. “The FCI fails to make timely procurement of foodgrains due to which its quality deteriorates.”
In a belated initiative, the state has proposed constructing godowns in every block.
In Punjab, it’s a problem of pilferage. Procured wheat stored in various state government-owned godowns, such as those of the Punjab Agro Industry Corporation, are lost to theft. In many instances, the thieves pour water on the wheat sacks so they appear heavier than they are. These sacks make it to the central pool despite scrutiny by FCI officials.
HT has in the past highlighted such scams in Bathinda and Mansa districts. In February, a Punjab Agro Industries Corporation official was booked for the offence.
(Inputs from HTC Patna, Bathinda)