Some 48,315 tonnes of wheat procured by the Punjab government are to be fed to cattle after being declared unfit for human consumption. The stock, enough to feed about 7.1 million people a month through the public distribution system (PDS), had piled up over the previous three years.
Officials at the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which declared the grains unfit after an inquiry in March, said Punjab’s procurement agencies had failed to move the wheat in time for distribution. The agencies also failed to use scientific methods to preserve the stocks, they said.
Nilkanth S. Avhad, FCI general manager at Chandigarh, said his organisation had tried in vain to prevail upon the Punjab government and its agencies to save the wheat stocks—enough to pack
nearly 1 million bags of 50kg each.
Three FCI officials—one chief general manger and two general managers—had conducted the inquiry. In
their report, they squarely blamed the Punjab government and its procurement agencies for ignoring preservation norms.
The agencies also preferred to move their new stocks ahead of the older ones, they said.
“This is a sheer negligence of the state government. The FCI pays (a) huge amount to (the) state for the procurement and preservation of the stocks.
The state government must hold an inquiry and punish officials responsible for the rot,” said the FCI report.
FCI, which holds the largest percentage of grains in the country, pays state agencies about Rs1,700 for the procurement of every quintal, or 100kg, of wheat.
The agencies, after paying the minimum support price (MSP) to farmers, which varied from Rs850 to Rs1,100 in the last three years, were to use the balance money for preserving the stocks.
FCI has now written to the Punjab government saying that if it fails to move the rotten stocks in the next six months to one year, these would not be fit even as cattle feed.
And with the rice harvesting season coming up, it will be an uphill task for the Punjab government to create space for fresh arrivals.
Of the wheat stocks that have rotted as of 1 July, 34,396 tonnes were in the yards of Punjab Agro Food Grain Corporation; 7,768 tonnes with Punjab State Grains Procurement Corporation; 6,032 tonnes with Punjab State Civil Supplies Corporation; and 119 tonnes with Punjab Marketing Federation.
“The damage has been due to natural calamities coupled with lack of adequate space for storage and deficiency in scientific methods of preservation of the wheat stocks,” said S.P. Singh, principal secretary in Punjab’s food and civil supplies department.
The state’s food and civil supplies minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon was not available for comment.
Singh said that movement of stocks has also been slow. “Though we have created space for 21 lakh metric tonnes (2.1 million tonnes, or mt) of wheat, but still, we have to preserve nearly 14 lakh metric tonnes (1.4mt) of wheat without scientific methods,” he said. “The government has already floated tenders for auctioning the rotted wheat stocks for cattle feed.”
Punjab has more than 11mt of wheat stocks, of which nearly 9.2mt are stocked in the open and only 1.86mt is covered.
(Tracking Hunger is an HT and Mint initiative to investigate and report the struggle to rid India of hunger. You can read previous stories at www.hindustantimes.com/trackinghunger)