Godowns go abegging

Godowns go abegging

While mountains of foodgrain rot in the open for want of storage space, ironically, lakhs of tons of storage space built up by private players in Punjab is lying unused.

Not a grain has been stocked in many of these private warehouses that could have offered some reprieve to the growing crisis of rotting foodgrains.

Ask Rajinder Singh, a avant-garde farmer and landlord, who says he spent Rs 3 crore building a warehouse for storing wheat and paddy, but is still awaiting clearances a year later. Singh says he informed the authorities in March this year that his facility was ready.

“All I can do is wait for the clearances. Unless that happens, neither will I make profit nor will the wheat stock be saved,” he said. Interestingly, while the government keeps harping about inadequate storage for foodgrains, close to 7 lakh MT of storage space was added in Punjab alone this year. Not much of it has been put to use.  The process started few years ago in 2008 when the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and Punjab government invited the participation of private players to add a capacity of 47 lakh tons of storage space.  The plan was that the private player would invest to build the space for which the FCI would pay the rent.

The inspection part was left to the state government agencies. Another 5 lakh ton storage space will be added in the next few months. Official sources, on condition of anonymity, said many of the warehouses have just been completed and will be taken over for storage in due process when the mandatory quality clearances are accorded. Approval for 28-30 lakh tons storage space through private participation has been arranged, sources added.

However, even as some see hope in the next few years when these storage spaces are effectively put to use, the real issue experts say cannot be addressed unless existing paddy and wheat stocks are moved out of warehouses in a timely manner.
An official said, “These new facilities too will meet the same fate as existing overflowing warehouses. At the end of a season, they will be well stocked, but the problem of storage will again crop up once fresh arrivals reach markets.”

Another issue that still needs to be adequately addressed is the damage to crop caused in government and private owned warehouses.  Under the norms, the damages in warehouses after procurement are to be borne by the state government and, in case of a private storage facility, by the private entrepreneur, farm expert Hamir Singh said.  The Punjab government has been vehemently pursuing its case with Union government for getting back a whopping Rs 7,400 crore charged for damage to crop in warehouses over the years.

The governments efforts have been to little effect, former Punjab Agriculture Director Dr B S Sidhu said.

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