Hemant Gupta's 30,000-tonne foodgrain storage godown is one of the largest in Ferozepur. In 1978, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) rented it from him, agreeing to pay Rs 75,000 per month.
In 2004, says Gupta, the FCI vacated his godown, shifting all the grain to a field nearby.
"It's plain corruption," explained Gupta.
Storing in the open gives officials the sanction to buy many more gunny bags, wooden crates, tarpaulin sheets and fumigating material, all in the name of preserving the grain well.
Kickbacks can be sought on all of these.
"There's hardly any accountability," he concluded.
Sandeep Gilhotra, president of the Punjab Godown Owners Association, endorsed Gupta.
"FCI has always promoted open storage as it gives people an opportunity to earn more money," he alleged.
Again in 1978, the FCI rented Col T S Dhillon's 7,500-tonne capacity godown at Chabal, Amritsar for Rs 15,000 a month, (at 40 paise per sq ft).
Thirty-two years later he gets just 67 paise per sq foot — a monthly rent of Rs 25,500 — though the FCI pays up to Rs 2.40-2.50 per sq foot for godowns they have rented in recent years.
"My godown is just as good as any other but I get four times less rent. Why?" asked Col. Dhillon.
"He is right. We, too, feel there should be a uniform policy," Punjab's FCI senior regional manager Nilkanth S Avhad admitted.
The absence of uniformity has even prompted some of the owners of old godowns — some are paid as little as 32 paise per square foot — to consider demolishing their godowns.
While the country reworks the Food Security Bill to ensure sufficient food for all, the wastage of grain during storage, transit and on account of pilferage/theft still remains a major issue.
In the past four years, an estimated 6-lakh tonnes of foodgrains have been lost due to poor storage facilities across India, while about 6.75 lakh tonnes was lost in transit.
In Punjab, 48,315 metric tonnes wheat have been declared unfit for human consumption by the FCI in the past three years.
(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 )