Hungry People – Rotting Foodgrains

Posted on August 1, 2010 in Society

By Mamta:

Rodents, monkeys and dogs are eating away the foodgrains; prevalent poor food storage conditions and rain water flowing from the sacks of wheat in the godowns of Food Corporation of India are a disgrace to the nation. We have seen such pictures on different news channels. Different TV channels are showing this situation in various parts of India. Now even the Supreme Court has termed the wastage of foodgrain as a “crime”.

The apex court expressed its concern over the wastage of a large amount of foodgrain in the absence of adequate storage and asked the centre to consider releasing the grain to the deserving poor. The official statement of the government itself notes that there is wastage of foodgrains at many places in the country.

Many months have passed since some news channels aired such reports but the situation has not improved. On the contrary, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and other officials accused the media of repeatedly showing the same footage and exaggerating the issue.

In the Monsoon session of Parliament, Sharad Pawar replied to a question in Lok Sabha that over 11,700 tonnes out of about 57.8 million tonnes of foodgrain stock with the government has been found “damaged” as on the beginning of this month.

In Allahabad, more than one lakh of wheat sacks are left in open despite being enough space in the godown. The godown is spread in nine acres of land. Similar situation is prevailing in Patna and Katihar godowns. Foodgrains are left in open without any care.

In Haryana itself 3 lakh sacks of wheat got wasted in a warehouse due to floods. The Met department had issued flood warning to Punjab and Haryana before the arrival of monsoon. However, the precautions were not taken and the foodgrains continued to lie in open and low-lying area. Flood water entered the warehouse and damaged the foodgrains. Here the big question which media and the people are asking is: if the people could be evacuated from the villages in time, why were the foodgrain allowed to be destroyed by the floods?

Similarly, 4.5 lakh sacks of wheat estimated to be worth over Rs 25 crore were damaged due to rains in the FCI godown at Hapur in Ghaziabad. But when the media-persons contacted the FCI offficials, they flatly denied the impact of rain. The stock was meant to be picked up by the Uttar Pradesh government but it failed to do so in time.

Foodgrain storage is a major issue in India as a large part of it gets wasted due to poor storage conditions. Every year it’s the same story. Even Pawar admits that we need 140 tonnes of extra storage capacity. Enough said, the main question is that where is the implementation?

In India there are around 492 warehouses. Two third of the foodgrain is kept in government’s own constructions. One sixth is kept in open and the remaining is kept in hired facilities. According to a report by NDTV, every year around 20-30 per cent foodgrain is wasted.

According to an estimate by the World Food Program, one quarter of the world’s hungry live in India. India ranks 66th in the world in battling hunger. Over 20 crore people are hungry. During 1997-2007, 10 lakh tonnes of foodgrain was damaged. With this 10 lakh tonnes of food one crore people could be fed for a year. At a time when food prices are sky-rocketing and thousands of families living below poverty line are struggling to get their meals, such wastage of foodgrain is unfortunate and shameful.

The government has failed to provide it to the people living below poverty line through the Public Distribution System. The central government has also not released these foodgrains in the open market so as to bring down the prices. It is indirectly helping the private players, hoarders and black-marketers who are reaping profits form the shortage of foodgrain in the open market.

A Supreme Court appointed committee, headed by former SC judge Justice DP Wadhwa, set up to do a reality check on the mechanism of Public Distribution System (PDS) had described it as “inefficient and corrupt”, plagued by black marketing and unofficially run by a “vicious cartel of bureaucrats, fair price shop owners and middlemen”. In its report the committee said the Rs 28,000 crore subsidy annually spent by the government was pocketed by the vested interests and suggested stern action to stem the rot. [source]

Hunger and malnutrition are prevalent in the country. According to NSS consumer expenditure data, in 1993-4, the percentage of rural people consuming less than 2400 calories per day was 74.5 per cent which by 2004-5 increased to 87 per cent.

Some television channels showed the images of poor people scavenging on rotten foodgrains and potatoes in Maharashtra and Bihar. In Maharashtra people were shown picking up rotten potatoes which were thrown away by a trader. According to another report an old woman was tortured and locked up in a room by the workers (contractors) of FCI for picking up rotting foodgrains from Railway station in Vaishali, Bihar. These reports show how people living below poverty line are forced to eat rotten food stuff and even steal the foodgrain.

The PDS was established to maintain stability in the prices of essential commodities across regions, to ensure food entitlements to all sections of people at reasonable and affordable prices and to keep a check on private trade, hoarding and black-marketeering. The crumbling system of PDS has led to massive food insecurity across the country.

In another shocking exposure a news channel showed that FCI had suggested exporting these foodgrains to neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh to avoid further wastage. What an irony! Why is that the government and ministers need a rebuke from the Supreme Court to act? The court has asked the government a significant question which was lurking in the minds of people of the country — that if the government does not have the adequate storage facility why it is not distributing the excess amount among the poor. Looking for an answer…

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

Youth Ki Awaaz is helping the World Food Program in the fight against hunger by raising awareness and attracting proactive bloggers from around the globe. Hunger will be eradicated, if we fight against it together. To know more about WFP visit http://wfp.org and http://www.wfp.org/how-to-help.

[The image shows a screen grab from one of CNN-IBN’s report on the wasteage of food grains in India.]

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