NEW DELHI: With the UPA government serious about implementing the Food Security Bill, the Committee on Public Undertakings, headed by Congress’s Jagdambika Pal, will take up for discussion on Monday a recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the assessment of food grain management across the country.
The auditor’s report paints a grim picture on the states’ lack of capability to manage operational stock of food grains — a majority of which is wasted due to insufficient storage facilities. Out of 31 states and Union territories (UTs), the report says only eight of them have storage facilities available for 120 days required for management of food stocks.
Most of the poor states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Tami Nadu and Assam do not have capacity to handle stocks for more than 13-75 days. States like Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, J&K, Jharkhand and Assam cannot handle their stock even for a month.
Only Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry and Rajasthan have adequate storage facilities. A few states like Chhattisgarh and UP have the required space to maintain stocks for four months.
Already damages are causing huge dent to the public exchequer. Audit reveals more than 1 lakh tonne of wheat worth Rs 122 crore was damaged in Punjab and Haryana alone in the last couple of years due to lack of proper storage.
Despite the fact that over hundred lakh tonnes of food grain stocks as old as 2007-08 were still lying in custody of states, the government continued on an ambitious procurement drive. The procurement in the central pool increased from 343 lakh tonnes in 2006-07 to 824 lakh tonnes as on June 1, 2012. However, there was not much improvement in storage space or movement of food grains from procuring states to consuming states in the last decade.
The policy deficiency was not limited to storage and procurement. At a time when the government’s spend on food subsidy was estimated to touch Rs 1.25 lakh crore for implementing the food security scheme, the UPA regime exported food grains from its overflowing reserves at subsidized rate causing loss of over Rs 1,700 crore (in 2012-13).
The export was allowed for lack of space to stock them. Experts say instead of exporting at a loss, the stocks if released in the domestic market could have substantially brought down inflationary pressures on the food grains.
Surprisingly, the Centre has no idea how much buffer stock it requires to meet food security such as for emergency needs arising out of natural calamity, price stabilization, food security reserve, targeted public distribution system and to maintain for other welfare schemes within the minimum buffer stock.
The existing policy did not specify the maximum and manageable level of stock to be maintained in the Central pool.
States with inadequate food grains storage capacity
Himachal — 13
Meghalaya — 24
Jharkhand — 27
Assam — 35
J&K — 36
Bihar — 48
Madhya Pradesh — 60
Tamil Nadu — 67
Odisha — 74
West Bengal — 78
Note: Figures are number of days which a state can store food grains after procurement
Source: Time of India