The food ministry on Thursday assured the nation all efforts were being made to ensure foodgrains were not damaged because of improper storage. This, despite the fact that due to poor storage facilities, 6.61 million tonnes remain vulnerable to the vagaries of the impending southwest monsoon.
“I can assure all the best efforts are being made to ensure no grain is damaged in the monsoon,” Food Minister K V Thomas told reporters. He added of the total foodgrain stock in central pool, estimated at about 82 million tones, about 87 per cent was in safe storage facilities. The rest faced high risks, since it was stored in katcha facilities.
“We have prepared a comprehensive plan to ensure all the grain stored in katcha storage facilities is shifted from there at the earliest so that minimum grain is damaged,” Thomas said, adding 1.7 million tonnes would be shifted in June, and 1.6 million tonnes in July. In shifting the grain, those stored in low-lying areas would be given priority, followed by those stored in rice and sugar mills. Stocks in the godowns of Food Corporation of India (FCI) and state governments would come next.
“By the end of July, almost half the high-risk stocks would be shifted before the monsoon hits the northern parts of the country in full steam, as most of these stocks are in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana,” Thomas said. He added the remaining stocks would be shifted in phases, since these were not as vulnerable as the rest.
He said along with augmenting storage space through the Private Entrepreneurship Guarantee Scheme, under which the Centre plans to add 15 million tonnes of additional storage space (space for four million tonnes has already been constructed), it had also planned an initiative with the rural development ministry.
Under this, construction of grain storage facilities in villages and talukas would be carried out under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
“We have, in principle, agreed to implement this programme. The finer details would be worked out soon,” he said.
Lamenting the fact that FCI had emerged the sole buyer of foodgrains in India in the last few years (which led to storage woes), the minister said a policy needed to be formulated to correct this. “I have written to the prime minister to formulate a policy, as in the last few years, FCI purchased 80-90 per cent of the grains coming to mandis. A few years earlier, it was 25-30 per cent,” he said.
He added the recent decision of an empowered group of ministers to allocate an additional five million tonnes of grain for distribution through ration shops and three million tonnes for sale in the open market would also help create additional storage space. “We are working to make the scheme for open market sale more liberal, so that the entire allocated quantity is purchased by bulk consumers,” he said, adding he had written to all chief ministers to take their Public Distribution System allocation for six months at one go. He said he was willing to work with them to resolve financial concerns.