Wheat procurement nears, storage shortfall has Punjab govt worried
The Punjab government will have a tough task at hand during the forthcoming wheat procurement season with the state facing a severe shortage of space for storing foodgrains.
Officials of the state food and supplies department and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) have predicted a glut if the major portion of the already stored grain is not moved out in time.
Even as the procurement began officially on Sunday, wheat will start arriving in the mandis by the second week of April.
The state government has asked the Centre to lift the foodgrain quickly so as to make space for the wheat that will arrive this season. But foodgrain purchase remained slow at 17-18 lakh tonne every month, at least 2 lakh tone less than the past years.
The state procurement agencies are having a tough time as a stalemate has prevailed between truckers and the Punjab government over the cap imposed on wheat transportation rates. To deal with this situation, senior Punjab government officials are contemplating to impose Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) on truckers for smooth transportation of wheat.
The state has a total closed storage capacity of 153 lakh tonnes, of which FCI has 103 lakh tonne capacity while five state procurement agencies have the rest of the storage.
Right now, warehouses in Punjab have 26 lakh tonne wheat of the previous season and 90 lakh tonne rice. FCI is waiting for handing over of 14 lakh tonne rice by the state rice mills. “It is going to be a tough season for us as wheat is usually not stored in open plinths. We have closed storage area available for only 35 lakh tonnes,” said a senior FCI officer.
“We have come up with a storage policy and have called for expressions of interest (EoIs) to arrange cover and plinths space for wheat storage,” said Anandita Mitra, director food and civil supplies, Punjab.
She said the government will manage to store the wheat if the arrival remains somewhere between 118-120 lakh tonnes but they may face difficulty if procurement reaches 130 lakh tonne mark as predicted by the state agriculture department.
“We are hoping that pace of foodgrain lifting by the Centre picks up to make the situation easy,” said Mitra.