From April 1, the procurement of wheat would begin, and a whopping 150 lakh tonnes of the golden grain are expected to arrive in the 1,750-odd procurement centres in Punjab in the current rabi season. The crop may well be termed bumper, but there is space for only 60 lakh tonnes.
Visibly worried, DS Grewal, principal secretary in the state's food and civil supplies department, said, "We are looking for space in sugar mills, yards and even in rice mills. It's going to be very tough."
Adding to the woes is the lack of gunny bags. Storing 150 lakh tonnes of wheat requires 50 crore bags (each used for 50kg), but sources say only 15 crore are available.
The state government is struggling to get more. "For gunny bags from the West Bengal-based Jute Corporation of India, we have paid in advance but our requirement has not been met so far," said food and civil supplies minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, adding that non-availability of gunny bags had become a major issue in the past few years.
Officials of the agriculture department initially predicted a wheat crop of 135 lakh tonne. "But current weather conditions, with the long cold spell, the yield is expected to touch 150 lakh tonnes," said Punjab Mandi Board vice-chairman Ravinder Singh Cheema. Predictions now also say that there would be sudden arrival of wheat in the last week of April.
MOVE IT OUT
Punjab at present has a total storage space of 230 lakh tonnes -- 110 lakh tonnes covered, rest on open plinths -- of which only 60-lakh tonne is available.
Vacating space by exporting wheat and shifting it to other states is an option; but progress is slow. After a request from Punjab, the central government allowed 35 lakh tonnes of wheat to be exported. Though the original demand by Punjab was 50 lakh tonnes to be moved out, the central government decided to pick up 15 lakh tonnes from neighbouring Haryana.
The state has been sending distress calls to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for faster movement of wheat and rice, but Cheema said the movement is not steady.
Now, other than Punjab, bumper wheat crop is expected in Haryana, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and even Gujarat. So with even these states contributing to the national pool, movement from Punjab would suffer further. "Only 7-8 lakh tonnes of wheat and same quantity of rice are moved out of the state every month. That's not sufficient," Grewal said.