NATIONAL SHAME & CORRUPTION: $340-million rot mission – Cash for 1m tonnes can feed 2m homes – while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, so let them eat cake ?!!
JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
AND R. SURYAMURTHY
New Delhi, Sept. 2: Amount of rotten wheat India is likely to end up with — 1 million tonnes.
And that’s just official estimates.
Money spent on buying this 1 million tonnes of wheat — $340 million. Enough to feed roughly 2 million families in a year.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of India’s wheat purchase and wastage.
Days after the Supreme Court ordered the government to distribute grain free to the poor instead of letting stocks rot in the open, figures revealed the extent of the wastage.
Sources said the government had grain silos with a capacity for storing 39 million tonnes, but had a stock of 57 million tonnes, resulting in a situation where nearly 18 million tonnes were lying in temporary storage or even in the open, under tarpaulin covers.
This 18 million tonnes cost the government approximately $6 billion to buy, store and transport.
China has the capacity for storing up to 200 million tonnes of wheat and paddy.
Officials say the government will end up with some 1 million tonnes of spoilt wheat, though traders put the figure at 8 million tonnes.
“Rains have been late and heavy in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh where the grain is lying in tarpaulin-covered heaps. We expect at least 40 per cent of the stuff lying in the open to rot,” said Jagdamba Gupta, a grain trader and exporter.
This is despite purchase of wheat from farmers at a price higher than what the grain costs in the global market.
India buys wheat from its farmers at Rs 11,000 or $230 a tonne, the price set independently by a government-appointed committee. Taking the cost of storage and transportation, a tonne ends up costing the government $340.
In the global market, wheat costs $260-270 a tonne, despite a 60 per cent increase over June this year.
The wastage could have been reduced had the government not slept over recommendations made by the country’s best-known agricultural scientist, M.S. Swaminathan, about half a decade back.
The man, known as the father of the Green Revolution, had suggested that the government set up ultra-modern grain storage facilities at 50 locations in the country, with each capable of handling one million tonnes of wheat or rice.
“There is an urgent need to increase the storage capacity in the country as rotting grains add to the food subsidy bill of the government,” said Y.K. Alagh, former Union minister and economist with the Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research.
The government has budgeted an expense of Rs 68,181 crore as subsidy for the year 2010-11 for buying and storing grain for sale at cheaper rates through the public distribution system.
“It would also be good if the courts order the government to create additional storage capacity. We would then not have to face this kind of a situation next year or the year after that, where we are unable to store a bumper crop,” said T. Haque, former chairman of the agricultural prices commission and a well-known agricultural economist.
Grain for poor, but not free – rotting grain first to non-UPA states, contempt of SC ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, Sept. 2: The Centre today decided to release an additional 2.5 million tonnes of foodgrain to be sold as ration to the poor following Tuesday’s Supreme Court rap, but deferred a decision on the court’s order to give it free.
Food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar announced the decision after a meeting of the group of ministers and also declared that the public distribution system (PDS) would be “overhauled” to bring more families under the below poverty line (BPL) category who are given rations at rates lower than others.
“As an interim ad-hoc measure, pending a final decision on the issue, the government is releasing an additional quantity of 2.5 million tonnes of wheat and rice to the states at a BPL price for the next six months,” Pawar said.
The government said a final decision would be taken later on the free-grain order, which had come in the wake of reports that stocks were rotting in godowns even as millions were going hungry. There are 6.52 crore families registered under the BPL category, each eligible for 35kg of grains every month. Rice is distributed at Rs 5.65 a kg, and wheat at Rs 4.15 per kg.
Pawar, the apparent target of the court’s rebuke for a statement attributed to him that the apex court had “suggested” and not “ordered” free grain, promised more relief from the planned PDS revamp. After the overhaul, the number of BPL families is expected to increase to 8.1 crore.
But Y.K. Alagh, a former Union minister and an economist with Ahmedabad’s Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, said: “The court had clearly stated who should get the foodgrain. The data (on such poor) is available with the government.”