The Punjab government ordered on Friday an inquiry as to how warehouses meant for storing foodgrain in Ludhiana were stocking liquor.
Punjab Food and Civil Supplies Minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon has sought a report from the Punjab State Warehousing Corporation (PSWC) on this. He said Punjab was facing a shortage of warehouses.
Darbara Singh Guru, principal secretary to the chief minister, said: “It’s a serious issue and we will have it examined.” He is supervising wheat procurement in Punjab.”
PSWC District Manager (Ludhiana) Gurnam Singh said the warehouses that had idle space were rented to private parties just a few months ago.
However, warehouse records show that the stores have been in liquor companies’ possession for three or four years.
The space rented for storing liquor could have accommodated about 500,000 tonnes of foodgrain.
Warehouses have been leased to liquor distributors at monthly rates not even half the ones charged by private parties for similar facilities.
Investigation by HT has found that the corporation is charging liquor distributors between Rs 18,000 and Rs 22,000 a month for a warehouse with a capacity of 900 tonnes. The market rate is between Rs 40,000 and Rs 50,000, depending on the location.
Of the 15.5 million tonnes of wheat procured in Punjab last year, almost 10 million tonnes is lying in the open, exposed to rain and wind. The bumper harvest this year can only compound the problem.
Punjab’s total warehouse capacity (central as well as of the PSWC) is 18 million tonnes.
A senior warehouse official said the rent for storing one tonne of foodgrain was increased by Rs 2 to Rs 22 this year.
The capacity with the PSWC is more than one-third of the total of all state warehousing corporations in India. The corporation built its granaries with the aim of “protecting the agricultural produce from natural vagaries and seasonal hazards using scientific storage facilities”.
The PSWC Act, under which the corporation functions, debars the use of its godowns for any purpose other than storing seasonal agricultural produce, and sanctions criminal proceedings against violators.