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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Food dept eyes control over Punjab warehousing corp, its funds

Officials term demand inappropriate; rubbish corruption claims

punjab Updated:
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
The corporation that has turnover of ₹600 crore generally stores rice and wheat that belongs to the government.
The corporation that has turnover of ₹600 crore generally stores rice and wheat that belongs to the government. (Bharat Bhushan/HT)

 Alleging corruption and lack of coordination in food grain storage system, the Punjab food and civil supplies department has sought control over the state warehousing corporation which has 40% in-built storage of all five procurement agencies.

The agriculture department, however, has termed the demand as inappropriate. An official added that a government department cannot seek control of a subsidiary of the other, just like that.

“We face problems in storage. Ideally, the state warehousing corporation must be transferred to our control,” said state food and civil supplies minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu.

He added, “A number of times, the warehousing corporation has refused to store foodgrain particularly wheat, procured by two agencies – Pungrain and Punsup (under the control of food department) on frivolous grounds. This leads to hassles in the storage process.” 

Sources added that the warehousing corporation that has an annual turnover of ₹600 crore generally stores rice and wheat that belongs to the Food Corporation of India, which the state doesn’t like. They claim that as the food department plays a major role in procurement, wants the corporation under its control. The Central Warehousing Corporation also has a stake in the state body.

The liquidity and a possible share in profits is also a huge attraction for the state.

“The warehousing corporation functions under agriculture department as per the allocation of business rules. These rules have to be amended incase any change is necessitated. Do we actually need such kind of amendment or not, it is to be assessed,” said additional chief secretary (development) Vishavjeet Khanna who is the administrative in-charge of the agriculture department. 

Other than the three procurement agencies, two state agencies — Markfed and Punjab Agro Industries Corporation — function under the state cooperation department. Earlier this month in a presentation before a high-powered committee, in a meeting also attended by the Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh, the issue was flagged, but no decision was reached. 

“We are drafting a proposal to take up the issue again at the top levels,” said Ashu, adding that with increase in production, his department wanted to increase storage capacity in the state and had written to all state agencies. 

“Ideally, when our department which oversees the procurement operations in the state during twice a year (wheat in rabi and paddy in kharif), all the storage operations should also be under the food department,” suggested Ashu.

Managing director of the warehousing corporation Abhinav Trikha rubbished any allegations of corruption.

“In case of any problem in operations, there’s system of redressal within the government,” he said. 

The state has a total closed storage capacity of 153 lakh tonne, of which FCI has 103 lakh tonne. The rest is with the five state procurement agencies. As of now, warehouses in Punjab have 26 lakh tonne wheat stored from previous season and 90 lakh tonne rice. The FCI is waiting for state rice mills to hand over 12 lakh tonne rice. Due to shortage of covered storage space, the covered area plinth (open) storage of 79 lakh tonne is full, after this year’s wheat procurement.

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