Indian laborers separate rotten wheat grains at a storage facility. With such a large population, India cannot afford to waste grain. (Narinder Nanu /Getty Image

Kamayani Bali Mahabal- aka Kractivist

India is a criminal paradox of plenty -overflowing godowns and rotting grains on the one hand while millions go hungry everyday . Having the largest population of hungry in the world, India ranks 63 among 105 countries in the 2013 Global Hunger Index. That too at a time when there is no shortage of food within the country.To get rid of the huge stocks, India has aggressively resorted to food exports.  India is now the world’s third-largest grain producer after China and the United States. While rice exports have touched 10 million tonnes, making India the world’s biggest rice exporter, close to 9.5 million tonnes of wheat has also been exported this fiscal. And yet, grain stocks remain unmanageable.  An RTI query revealed that 17,500 tonnes of grains destroyed in godowns in the past  three years.

The government acknowledges that food worth nearly Rs 60,000 crore is destroyed every year due to poor and insufficient storage facilities. This lost food is keeping millions of Indians hungry. To add insult to injury, the government spends about Rs 2.6 crore of the tax payers’ money to get rid of food grain that has rotted during storage.

On 31st March 2004, just before UPA 1 took over, the total Government owned storage capacity was 367 lakh MTs, while capacity hired from the private sector was 170 lakh MTs. At the end of UPA 1, on 31st March 2009, the Government owned storage capacity had reduced to 321 lakh MTs, while private hired godowns had increased to 248 lakh MTs. What is more surprising is that even this facility was not being utilised fully. 

The Supreme Court of India in 2010 , asked the government to distribute the food free to the needy rather than letting it rot in warehouses. Sharad Pawar who claims to be the champion of farmers and nationalist congressman interpreted this order as ‘suggestion’ and claimed that there is no way that the government can think of distributing the grains to the poor. The Supreme Court had to further clarify its judgment by reminding Mr. Pawar and through him the government of India that its ruling on food grain was an order and not a suggestion as interpreted by the minister.

A performance audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General has revealed a serious shortfall in the government‟s storage  capacity. Given the increasing procurement and incidents of rotting food grains, the lack of adequate  covered storage is bound to be a cause for concern. 

The report found Imbalances in availability of storage capacity across states: On the one hand, there is a shortage of space in consuming states, such as Rajasthan and Maharashtra, which together account for 13 percent of the total capacity of the FCI. On the other hand, 64 percent of the total storage capacity is concentrated in states undertaking large procurement such as Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. 

Maximum buffer norms not specified: The minimum buffer norms prescribed by the government do not clearly delineate individual elements of food security (e.g., emergency, price stabilisation, food security reserve, and TPDS) within the minimum buffer stock. The existing norms also do not specify the maximum stock that should be maintained in the central pool for each of the above components. 

Low utilisation of existing capacity in various states/UTs: The audit observed that despite storage constraints in FCI, utilisation of existing storage capacity in various states/UTs was less than 75 percent in the majority of the months during the period 2006-07 to 2011-12.

The national audit body also criticized the internal audit and physical verification conducted by FCI stating that it was largely inadequate and lacked independence. The Weak internal audit would expose FCI to the risk of non-compliance with rules, systems and procedures, inefficiencies and lack of control on operations. 

Food has never been on the top of the national agenda of the United Progressive Alliance .At a time when the price of food is becoming out of reach of the common masses and millions are struggling to meet their basic requirements of food, such wastage and the government’s deliberate attempt to deprive the people of their right to food and right to be free from hunger is nothing less than a deliberate attempt of the ruling class to create a situation of artificial famine similar to that which the imperial powers did in the heyday of imperialist exploitation. This is nothing but a crime against humanity.

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