Even as the Centre is redrafting the Food Security Bill to ensure availability of food for all, nearly 30 lakh tonnes of paddy — the rice from which could feed around 4 lakh people for a month — have been left to rot in Punjab, with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) refusing to lift the stock.
This particular variety of paddy, PAU 201, was developed by Punjab Agricultural University, and farmers were strongly encouraged to grow it. But now that they’ve done so in large quantities, the FCI, after examining it, has found the extent of damaged stalks to be much higher than rules permit it to accept.
“The Union food secretary has made it clear to us that the FCI will not lift PAU 201,” said N.S. Kang, financial commissioner (development) of Punjab.
“We don’t want to face criminal cases,” said a top FCI official. “The grain damage is 8-9 per cent — much more than the limit of 4.75 per cent we are allowed. Procuring it would be a clear violation of Prevention of Food Adulteration norms.”
PAU 201 was cleared by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research three years ago. Scientists claimed it was a high yielding variety of paddy that required less water than others, matured faster and even had higher nutritional value.
For the first two years, Punjab farmers did not sow it on a large scale. But in 2009-10, they planted it across 6 lakh hectares and produced about 45 lakh tonnes — around 30 per cent of the state’s total produce, said a state government official.
In the past six months, millers disposed of 15 lakh tonnes. But the rest is rotting.
“Government agencies should take my entire stock away and compensate me. I don’t want to mill this variety as the FCI will not lift it,” said Gurpreet Singh Mann, owner of Yadvendra Rice and General Mills, Bathinda.
“State agencies that procured the paddy from farmers will suffer losses of several hundred crore if it is not lifted,” said D.S. Grewal, Director, Food, Punjab. “The government is even considering exporting the stock, if any other country is willing to take it.”
The Punjab government has started issuing advertisements advising farmers never to sow PAU 201 again.