Storage of procured foodgrains- The ever-prevailing concern

We can easily witness the deficiency of food in distinct zones of the country; however, it is shocking that procured foodgrains are lying haphazardly in the open areas, with no sincere attempts to distribute grains to those who are in need. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) alleges to have 1820 godowns nationwide with a storage capacity of 30.52 million tonnes. Though the government with a view to minimizing the storage and transit losses approved the policy of integrated bulk handling and transportation facilities in the year 2000, nothing much has been achieved.

The candidates of the general elections of 2014 though appeared to be concerned about malnutrition and the dipping prosperity of farmers, none of the political leaders came up with any suggestion or agenda to develop an infrastructure wherein the procured foodgrains can be stored hygienically and can then be dispersed in the areas of consumption. Though newspapers and electronic media consciously captured the storage of foodgrains in the open and subsequent loss, political groups are least worried. The gap of understanding between the need to export surplus and subsequent import during deficit is wide. Plus, corruption too makes the circumstances worst.

The reports last year presented the fact that tonnes of wheat is being damaged owing to the lack of storage capacity, on the contrary millions of Indians writhed to get hold of food for a time. The parliament witnessed some tough sessions, however real solution to this concern has not yet been achieved. Of almost 63 million tonnes of grains procured by the government, 28 million is stored in the open with ever-high vulnerability to damage and losses. The estimated loss in rupee terms due to such storage shortages is INR 60000 crores. It has been claimed that 194502 metric tonnes of grains were damaged between 2005 and 2013.

Besides Punjab and Haryana, Madhya Pradesh has emerged as one of the bulk producers of grains in India. It is estimated that the storage capacity in the state of Punjab is 14.3 million tonnes. Of this, 12.1 million tonnes space is already occupied by the produce of last year. For the current year, the state is expected to generate 14 million tonnes of produce, of which more than 70 percent will again be stored absurdly in the open. Plastic covers are being used to cover the foodgrains stored around the platforms, which renders the produce unhygienic even for consumption by animals. Who stands accountable for such disasters?

Swift measures are the need of the hour. While on one hand the government and FCI will have to come up with a sturdy plan of action for enhancing the storage infrastructure; transportation of foodgrains to the areas of consumption has to be taken care on the other hand. FCI has to recover from the laidback attitude so as to ensure that the presence of this corporation is beneficial for the public at large. Else, a PPP model has to be introduced with the restructuring of the organizational structure of FCI, which would stimulate the working as well the decision making and planning modules of the corporation. Decentralized storage, with creation of storage units at the block level can be an effective solution if undertaken appropriately.

It is considerable to note in the same context that the Food Minister, K V Thomas advocated extensive reorganization of the FCI claiming that the corporation is turning out to be a ‘white elephant’. In the year 2012, top to bottom revamping of the FCI was looked for by the Food Ministry; however no sincere attempts were made. Corruption in the corporation is known to all and the staff at numerous times has been charged with allegations of mismanagement. The Apex Court too had to take cognizance of the wastage of grains lying with the FCI and it was advised to take measures for rapid distribution of foodgrains to the needy.

Another way out until the above mentioned measures are carried out is the use of ‘Silo Bags’. These special bags are three-layered polythene bags, wherein two layers help prevent the stored produce from UV rays and damage from water, while the third black layer prevents the grains from sunlight. For 18-24 months, this measure prevents the stored grains from vermin as well as other damages. Madhya Pradesh government has started the use of these bags; however other states are still to re-think their storage parameters. Surely, quick decisions and extensive reorganization are the measures that can help prevent the foodgrains from damage.

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