By Vishal Gulati
Chandigarh, June 21 (IANS) Millions of tonnes of food grain are being stored in the open across the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, known as the "granaries of India", following a bumper wheat crop this season, due to lack of warehouse space.
The result: Vast quantities of grain, procured by state agencies for the Central pool, lie rotting.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh admitted more than 100 lakh tonnes of wheat is currently stored in the open, risking decay.
A visit to a large number of markets like Punjab's Khanna, Ludhiana and Jalandhar and Haryana's Ambala, Yamunanagar, Jind and Rohtak revealed that procured food grain are lying in the open under tarpaulins.
Punjab and Haryana contribute over 70 per cent of the total food grain (wheat and paddy) respectively to the national kitty.
Records show Punjab has harvested a 20-year record bumper wheat crop this season with its production of 129.93 lakh tonnes, of which 128.38 lakh tonnes has been procured by state agencies and the remaining by private traders.
In Haryana, the wheat procurement by state agencies has surpassed last year's level - 90 lakh tonnes of wheat against 74.25 lakh tonnes last year.
This season, Haryana is facing a problem of a glut of mustard, resulting in procured wheat lying in the open owing to space shortage, say officials.
"Since the government warehouses have been brimming with mustard, we are forced to store the wheat in the open," a Haryana Warehouse Corporation official, requesting anonymity, admitted to IANS.
"The procurement of mustard was never done on such a large scale in the past. Eyeing the Lok Sabha elections and to woo the farmers, the government went overboard in procuring mustard as much as it can," a Food and Supplies Department Officer in Karnal said.
Compared to last year, this time there has been up to a 150 rise in the procurement of mustard in Haryana, he added.
Officials say the main reason for the rot of tonnes of food grains both in Punjab and Haryana every year is storage in 'covered and plinth (CAP)' area in open spaces.
As per Food Corporation of India guidelines, food grains must be stored in covered warehouses and silos and CAP should be resorted to only during peak procurement seasons.
Contrary to this, even after the procurement season was over, substantial amount of food grains are kept in open in both states due to insufficient covered storage capacity.
Opposition parties in both states have smelled a scam in the rotting grain.
Apprehending rotting of substantial wheat this time, the Punjab Chief Minister this week sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention for permission to construct warehouses to address the acute shortage of covered storage space in the state.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Amarinder Singh has urged him to direct the Union Food Ministry to allow construction of 20 lakh tonnes capacity covered warehouses, under a seven-year guarantee by the Food Corporation of India (FCI), "so that food grains may be scientifically stored in the state".
He noted that bumper crops during the last few seasons, coupled with slow pace of evacuation of food grains from the state, had resulted in acute shortage of covered storage space.
As a result, more than 100 lakh tonnes of wheat, out of 280 lakh tonnes of food grain stocked in the state, is currently stored in the open, he said, adding that the situation had worsened this year because of unseasonal rains, resulting in the purchase of certain quantities of wheat under relaxed specifications.
Though the FCI had approved the construction of additional silo capacity of 21 lakh tonnes with railway sidings in the state, construction of the same may take four-five years or even more, the Chief Minister said.
As a result, lack of adequate storage space would force state procuring agencies to store wheat in unscientific locations in the coming seasons and further lead to damage of wheat stocks, he said, terming this a national loss.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at email@example.com)