Steel silos to save rotting grains in Punjab

Steel silos to save rotting grains in Punjab

Steel silos to  save rotting grains in Punjab

The United Nations annual hunger report for 2015 states that India is home to the highest number of hungry people in the world, at 194 million. World's highest populated country, China, too is better off than India when it comes to the hungry. Ironically, foodgrain that can feed an empty stomach rots in the open and is often declared unfit for human consumption by procurement agencies. 

Country's food basket states of Punjab and Haryana, that account for more than half of India's foodgrain production, suffer double whammy-- a problem of plenty and decay for want of adequate storage each year. Mega steel silos that are to be set up in border state Punjab to scientifically store lakhs of tonnes of wheat lying in the open now provide hope to this perennial problem.

This at a time when the Food Corporation of India  (FCI), in its latest survey, has pointed out that nearly 4.5 lakh tonne stored wheat in Punjab, estimated to be worth Rs 370 crore, is rotting. The FCI has said the wheat stored is now unfit for human consumption and state agencies are required to dispose of this rotting foodgrain since it cannot be procured. Simply put, over 75 lakh people could have fed on this foodgrain if this stock of wheat was fit for human consumption. Earlier, procurement agencies in Punjab had disposed of close to two lakh tonnes of rotten wheat and sold grains worth Rs 290 crore at rock bottom prices since the stock decayed for want of adequate storage.

Steel silos with a capacity of 16 lakh tonnes have been sanctioned for Punjab in the first phase, followed by another 15 lakh tonnes capacity in the subsequent phase. The move is aimed at checking the problem of decay and rotting foodgrains in Punjab. Things have improved but haven't changed much even after the Apex court's scathing remarks on the issue in August, 2010.

The Supreme Court had directed the Centre to ensure free distribution of foodgrains to the hungry poor instead of allowing it to rot in the FCI godowns. A division bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma, in an order, had said, “Give it to the hungry poor instead of grains going down the drain,” while asking the Centre to ensure construction of a big godown in each of the states besides separate godowns in different districts. The bench order was on a PIL on rampant corruption in public distribution system (PDS) besides rotting of foodgrains in FCI godowns.

The apex court had asked the government to consider the suggestions for disbanding PDS supply to above poverty line families and restrict the benefit only to below poverty line families and Antodya Anna Yojana Scheme beneficiaries.

Establishing silos will also cut down losses for the FCI. Sample this: At present, FCI transports 450 lakh tonnes of wheat every year from one state to the other. In this process, the FCI suffers a loss of Rs 150 crore annually. Although this is within the acceptable loss norms, but once the system of storage in silos is ready, it will have a zero loss norm, adding to the FCI coffers. That's not all. Under the current practice, good grain is to be filled in gunny bags which involves a cost of Rs 10 crore for every one lakh tonne of foodgrain coming to the market to be stored. In silo storage, grains are transported without gunny bags through trailers to the point of storage thereby bringing down the cost.

The problem of decaying wheat in Punjab stems from the existing practice of open storage in what is described as cover and plinth storage where wheat is filled in gunny bags, stacked on plinths and covered with tarpaulin. Big players like Adani Group already has smaller two lakh tonne capacity silos in Moga in Punjab. The Punjab government too is building its capacity on silos to overcome the problem of rotting foodgrains. 

Ironically, despite Punjab being one of the largest producers of foodgrains in the country, it continues to suffer from this rot, which is evident in FCI “non-issuable” tag given to the state for stock it has between 2009 and 2014, worth Rs 370 crore, which the agency says is beyond human consumption. In Punjab, state agencies Punsup and Punjab Agro Food Corporation account for more than half the storage losses in the state. As a policy, steel silos will now be built in both the consumer and producing states to prevent decay and cut loses. 

Punjab suffers from a problem of plenty when it comes to wheat production. Even when there have been seasons of deficit monsoon, the foodgrain production had not dipped, in fact at times surpassed previous procurement figures. That's also because of the irrigated network in the state and water-guzzling tube-wells that make up for everything even during deficit rainfall. Power supply to agriculture is free in Punjab. The water table in Punjab is at an alarming level in majority of blocks. But this problem of plenty brings along its set of problems. Rotting foodgrain is just one.

Fact file

India is home to the highest number of hungry people at 194 million
Punjab and Haryana suffer double whammy-- a problem of plenty and decay
FCI transports 450 lakh tonnes of wheat every year
In silo storage, grains are transported without gunny bags
Adani Group has 2 lakh tonne capacity silos

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