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?Centre to import 3 m tonne wheat?

DECLARING FOOD security to be a ?major problem?, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar today announced that the Centre would import 3.5 million tonne wheat to tide over the shortage in public distribution system (PDS) buffer stocks.

india Updated: May 01, 2006 23:23 IST

DECLARING FOOD security to be a ‘major problem’, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar today announced that the Centre would import 3.5 million tonne wheat to tide over the shortage in public distribution system (PDS) buffer stocks.

The Minister attributed the shortage to an amendment of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act, which allows private players to purchase grain directly from farmers.

“Since the new guidelines came into effect official procurement agencies have been unable to buy sufficient wheat as they are outbid by private players,” said Pawar after inaugurating the online trading platform of the National Board of Trade (NBOT) here on Sunday.

It may be noted that wheat buffer stocks on April 1, 2006, stood at 2.1 million tonne as against the required 4 million tonne.

The stocks are used to feed PDS outlets and for supply to areas hit by drought, flood or other natural calamities.

Pawar said the amendment had dented stocks as farmers preferred to sell to MNCs who paid anywhere between Rs 850-1,100 for LOKA-1, the wheat variety used in PDS, as against the government’s minimum support price of Rs 700. This, he added, had forced the government to enter the open market and purchase from abroad to make up buffer stock deficits.

“As Agriculture Minister I’m happy that farmers are getting a better price for their produce. But as Food Minister, I am concerned because consumers might have to pay the price,” said Pawar.

The Marathwada strongman further announced that the Warehousing Act would be amended to ensure that benefits of futures trading percolated to tillers instead of remaining restricted to traders. Pawar revealed that under the proposed amendment receipts issued by a government-owned warehouse would be treated as Negotiable Instruments.

“This would allow farmers to take loans against grains stocked in godowns and even hedge their produce on the commodities futures market”, added Pawar.

Earlier, Pawar formally inaugurated the NBOT’s online trading platform at a star-studded gathering at Scheme No 53. Union Minister of State for Agriculture, Food and Civil Supplies Kantilal Bhuria, State Minister, Commerce, Industry and Commercial Taxes Babulal Gaur, former chief minister and AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh, NBOT Chairman Kailash Shahra and NBOT Director MLA Karan Singh Pawar were among those present on the occasion.

Addressing commodities traders at a post-inauguration speech, Pawar declared that he would fully back the demand to have the Board accorded the status of a national exchange. “The recognition would come as soon as NOBT completes the reforms suggested by the Centre, a task which has been partially completed,” said Pawar.

The Agriculture Minister also endorsed the commodities’ traders demand opposing a merger of stock and commodities exchanges declaring them to be two separate entities. In his address Pawar traced the history of the commodities market in the country from the 1800s onwards.

Earlier, Kantilal Bhuria and Babulal Gaur heaped lavish praise on NBOT Chairman Kailash Shahra for his business acumen and entrepreneurial skills that had helped the Malwa region emerge among the largest soya producers in the world. Former
newsreader Suneet Tandon conducted the proceedings while the vote of thanks was proposed by Karan Singh Pawar. Meanwhile NBOT registered trading volumes of Rs 35 crore till 3.30 pm after going online in the morning.

First Published: May 01, 2006 23:23 IST