Tuesday, September 16, 2014


True, a new government has taken over the reins in the country raising hopes of millions of Indians that better days are ahead in contrast to the policy paralysis prevalent earlier. But whether their hopes will fructify remains to be seen as bureaucrats still rule the roost and moving them to implement top policy decisions is still a big task. Food Corporation of India is a classical example about the bureaucratic grid lock that characterizes government programs, many of them well intended but not implemented properly. Looking back FCI and GOI were damned by the Supreme Court of India some time back for wasting precious food grains because of negligence and callousness in creating sound storage structures required to safe guard food grains for long duration. Here is a flash back on this issue and it is pitiable that nothing much has changed as far as this problem of wastage is concerned.  

"The court commissioners dubbed negligence by officials as `genocidal' and recommended responsibility and accountability be fixed at the highest level in Central and state governments. The commissioners have warned that this is just a third of the 1.37 lakh MT of wheat lying in the open since 2008-09 in Punjab, and the entire lot could have become unfit for consumption as Food Corporation of India (FCI) norms allow grains to be exposed to nature for only a year. In Haryana, too, 31,574 MT of grains have been lying in the open since 2008-09. Another 27.38 lakh MT of grain are lying in Punjab. While 18.90 MT of grains are wrapped in polythene, and gathering dust for the past two years. The commissioners report that "a significant quantity of these food grains are likely to go waste if urgent measures are not taken by the Government of India to release these stocks to poor immediately." The Supreme Court commissioners' statement comes in stark contrast to that of Pawar, who had earlier said in Parliament only 11,700 MT of grains worth Rs 6.86 crore had become unfit for consumption and reports of rotting grains were blown out of proportion. When contacted principle adviser to court commissioners, Biraj Patnaik, refused to comment, stating the issue is sub-judice. A counter affidavit filed by the government to this report quietly skirts the issue of rotting grains completely. Instead it talks of long-term arrangements to increase space for storage. The apex court, in its earlier hearing, had asked why grains should not be distributed to the poor instead of being allowed to rot in the open. The government claimed it cannot increase allocation of grains to the state under the PDS as it is not able take ad-hoc decisions while the new criteria is being developed by the government."

One of the redeeming pictures emerging now with the new government setting new standards of governance, FCI stored food grains are released into the open market in a controlled way which has resulted in reduction of prices in the case of some food grains, especially rice and wheat. Nothing much has been heard about the extent of rotten grains still with the FCI though the Court wanted this to be distributed to the poor. What is not realized is that these grains in all likelihood might be inedible even for animals because of severe infestation and contamination. It is time that government takes a serious view regarding this issue, sets in motion a review of acquirement policy and make the FCI accountable to the Nation. Recent direction to states not to increase Minimum Support price being offered to mop up surplus grains from the farmers may be a good move to divert these grains into open market and avoid long term storage for which adequate storage capacity is still not available. Also interesting is the announcement by the new government to restructure and recast the FCI to make them more efficient and accountable, though it remains to be seen whether such statements get translated into reality.  


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