Indian flour mills have imported 17.2 lakh tonnes of wheat from Ukraine, Australia and France so far this crop year to meet domestic shortages. Additional 6-7 lakh tonnes of wheat shipments are expected to arrive in the coming months of the 2015-16 crop year (July-June), taking the country's overall imports to 24 lakh tonnes this year. Last year too, private flour millers had purchased about 5 lakh tonnes of wheat from Australia for the first time in a decade, due to the sluggish supply of domestic high protein wheat and lower international prices. "So far, 17.2 lakh tonnes of wheat has been imported from Ukraine, Australia and France. We need more and additional 6-7 lakh tonnes are expected till February," Roller Flour Millers' Federation of India Ex-President M K Datta Raj told Press Trust of India. Of the total exports till date, about 10.7 lakh tonnes were purchased from Ukraine, 5 lakh tonnes from Australia and 1.5 lakh tonnes from France. Wheat imports are being undertaken to meet domestic shortages and moreover, the grain is available in the global market at much lower than the local prices, he said. For instance, imported red wheat was costing Rs 1,880 per quintal for delivery in Bengaluru, while the local wheat was quoting higher at Rs 2,060 per quintal. Similarly, imported white wheat was costing Rs 2,080 per quintal compared to Rs 2,400 per quintal delivered from Uttar Pradesh. Stating that more import deals are expected in the coming months, Raj said this is because state-run Food Corporation of India (FCI) has restricted wheat sale to bulk users. He also demanded that if the government further brings down the import duty on the grain to zero from the current 10%, more wheat could come from abroad. "Weakening of rupee is increasing the cost of imports. It would be better if the government soon takes a call on this issue," he said. FCI is selling more wheat in North India to check retail prices of wheat and wheat flour, which have shot up by 23% in the last one year. For instance, the retail price of wheat in Delhi has gone up to Rs 24 per kg from Rs 19 per kg in the year-ago period.
Similarly, the retail price of wheat flour has increased to Rs 27 per kg from Rs 21 per kg, as per the government data.Rising wheat imports and spike in retail prices indicate short fall in the domestic output in the 2015-16 crop year, but the Agriculture ministry has maintained production to be 93.50 million tonnes despite drought in over 10 states. At present, the country is consuming the wheat grown in 2015-16 crop year. The new crop is being sown at present and will arrive in the market only in April.