Millennium Post

Wasted food for thought

Three thousand tonnes of food grains is a national asset, because it can feed about three lakh people for a month in the country. This national asset is kept in the safe custody of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), or so the nation thought till the latest figures of ‘wasted or non-issuable’ food grains came out. In the financial year 2011-2012, the country wasted about 3,000 tonnes of food grains in FCI godowns in different states. Ironically, the agriculture minister Sharad Pawar’s state leads the list of states that have not done enough to protect the wastage. Though the FCI claims that it has arrested the wastage of food grains in the last four years, it is a matter of shame that 3,000 tonnes of wastage is seen more as a positive trend than as a loss. A few years ago, the anti-public sector lobby in the country highlighted the wastage and claimed that this problem could be solved if the government allowed private players to construct and manage warehouses. The government bowed to the pressure and allowed private firms through Private Entrepreneurs Guarantee Scheme to assist the Central Warehousing Corporation and state warehousing corporation. Having achieved the purpose of pushing in private players, the lobby has forgotten how the private sector has performed. The government sanctioned half of the new storage capacity to private players. But, by August 2012, both the state bodies and private players together had completed only one-sixth of the capacity sanctioned. Unfortunately, neither the amount of food grains wasted nor the lack of proper storage facilities have invoked the kind of response from the government as it should have. What compounds the gravity of the situation is that a Right to Information activist had to cajole the FCI into sharing this piece of information with the public. A related fact that the government and the media tend to ignore is that such wastage has a real chance of pushing food inflation in the country, because not releasing enough grain in specified markets can directly influence the wholesale price of the commodity wasted, even if it does not impact the national inflation figures.

The government needs to get pro-active on this issue. It needs to understand that the people of the country want it to assure them that the grains produced with great labour in the country which is still dependent on monsoons for meeting production targets will not lie wasted. It needs to tell the food managers, be they government officials or private players, that a workable accountability is the need of the day.
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