Though a couple of months back I did write on this topic of Right to Food Act (refer April 18th, 2010 issue of TSI), I thought that one column could not have done justice to such a vast topic! Similar to what I wrote in my earlier column, there’s no doubt that the National Food Security Bill would come as a blessing for millions of families who sleep on empty stomachs; but the real question is, how will our authorities manage to mobilize this huge quantity of grains. Distribution in itself is a huge bottleneck, which I covered in detail in my previous column. But more than that, the other impediments are procurement and storage! Going by Food Security Bill recommendations, if the government has to distribute 420 kilograms of food grains to each of the 830 lakh BPL families every year, the government would require 350 lakh tonnes of grain every year! My skepticism behind the ‘success’ of this bill revolves around the current state of our Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns!
The obscene destruction of food grains in FCI godowns, which in reality are a real feast zone for rodents, is nothing new. But what’s most ironical is that despite food prices soaring up like never before, the government seems so very reluctant towards distributing their food grains, even those grain stocks that are on the verge of getting damaged, if not already damaged. According to reports obtained through the Right to Information Act, improper storage facilities and improper maintenance has destroyed a mind boggling 10,688 lakh tonnes of food grains over the years. What’s more shocking is that in spite of making allocation after allocation, and that too to the tunes of thousands of crores of rupees towards food safety and food subsidy, food-grain stocks worth Rs 50,000 crores had to be disposed off as waste over the past few years due to improper storage facilities. The incorrigibility of our authorities is so predominant that despite having knowledge about these damages, they still have not taken any adequate measures to improve the storage facilities. Otherwise, what else could be the logic behind the reliance on tarpaulin storage facilities for food grains. So much so that currently more than 170 lakh tonnes of grains are stored in tarpaulin facilities. The food grains stored under tarpaulin facilities not only have a low shelf life but also are exposed to frequent attacks by rodents. In the past, it was found that FCI’s godowns in a locality in Jaipur were found storing liquor for Rajasthan State Breweries Corporation, while wheat grains were left in the open.
If one goes by Planning Commission’s estimates that a family should be provided with 35 kg of food grains per month, then the food wasted over the years (since 1997 till 2010) could have fed 25,000 lakh families in one year, or 2500 lakh families over the last 10 years! This would have also been enough to feed 830 lakh BPL families (with 35 kg grains per month) over the next thirty years!!! In other words, adequate storage and systematic distribution infrastructure could have fulfilled the objective of national food security bill, all by itself! If mistakes of the past are to be overlooked (which shouldn’t be), the present stock of 590 lakh tonnes of grains stored in various FCI godowns could easily feed 1404 lakh BPL families for a year – and we would be still left with huge buffer stock that could be used in emergency for the future.
This distribution will not only bring these to-be-destroyed gains to some effective use but will also benefit the government economically. Assuming that PDS are mobilized to distribute these stored grains (590 lakh tonnes in various FCI godowns across India) at Rs 3/kg (suggested by Planning Commission), it would add nothing less than Rs 17,000 crores to the government’s kitty. Such wastage of grains is not only a waste of precious food resources but also off sets the whole rationale of food subsidy. The food subsidy bill (that on an average is above Rs 50,000 crores) rarely finds itself reaching the needy. And such a waste means that along with grains worth tens of thousands of crores, a substantial part of food subsidy, attached with these grains, also gets wasted.
With anywhere between 20 to 30 crore Indians sleeping hungry every night and over 7000 Indians dying of hunger every day, such waste is not less than a criminal offence. In such a situation, I find no logic behind storing grains in ill-maintained FCI godowns, especially at a point in time when the grain prices are at their peak. Rather than focusing on expanding, upgrading and modernizing the FCI facilities, which can then pave the way for a successful and sustainable National Food Security Bill, the government’s focus on the Right to Food Bill is outright populist! Not to forget, it has still a lot to do with respect to the distribution front as well. No wonder, we do so much to keep earning a place which is worse than even sub-Saharan countries in the Global Hunger Index.
- 30 July 2010 |
- Arindam on Indian Economy