Food Ministry wants to limit grain procurement to the needs of PDS
More than 6.6 million tonnes of wheat meant for the public distribution system, is lying in the open, running the risk of damage from rain, Minister of State for Food and Public Distribution K.V. Thomas admitted here on Thursday.
The government’s priority was to evacuate the wheat, he said.
Faced with a problem of plenty, the Food Ministry wants to limit grain procurement to the needs of the public distribution system. It also wants Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh to include construction of medium-capacity godowns in the national rural employment guarantee scheme to augment the grains storage capacity.
“We are concerned about 6.6 million tonnes of wheat kept open in an unscientific way, mainly in Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. We will give utmost priority to move the wheat to safety during monsoon,” Mr. Thomas said at a press conference here.
The Minister is closely monitoring the progress of monsoon, firstly to ensure that all grains are stored in a safe and secure manner and, secondly to assess if, looking in to the storage constraints, the Ministry should allow wheat export on government account, as was being envisaged. This would have been in addition to the recent decision to offload 8 million tonnes for the PDS and in the open market.
Mr. Thomas wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently, seeking a policy to limit procurement of grains for the central pool as per the requirement.
The Minister’s SOS comes in the wake of record procurement of grains this year with requests still pouring in from the wheat producing States urging the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to purchase more. The central support price for procurement of wheat this rabi is Rs. 1285 a quintal.
“Normally, we procure 25 per cent of mandi arrivals. This year we have procured almost 35 per cent and are still receiving requests because of the producing States,’’ he said.
For now, the government has stocks to the tune of 82.3 million tonnes, against a storage capacity of 64 million tonnes. Of the 50 million tonnes of wheat, 27 million tonnes are kept in the open under the Covered and Plinth (CAP) method, of which 6.6 million tonnes are stored in an “unscientific way.’’
As a contingent measure, the FCI has been directed to raise the stack size in case of both wheat and rice. “This way, the FCI would be able to accommodate 5-10 lakh tonnes more stock,’’ the Minister said.
As part of an Action Plan drawn up by the Food Ministry, the FCI had been directed to hire private storage space, including those of cooperative sugar mills, and the States directed to go in for creating intermediate storage capacity with funds from the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund.
The Minister pointed out that although the storage capacity of the FCI had increased by 40 per cent in last five years, there was storage deficit, as the government procurement reached an all-time high following a record output of wheat and rice for the last two consecutive years.
It is expected that an additional storage capacity of 4 million tonnes will be made available this year.