News of continuously rotting of food grains in government warehouses in the last few months has been disturbing the minds of the countrymen. An estimated 50 thousand tons of food grains have got rotten or turned unfit for human consumption in the last few months. One lakh thirty five thousand tons of wheat is still laying in open in Punjab in the absence of proper warehouses, ready to get destroyed. While expressing concerns over the matter Supreme Court, has directed the Government, that it's better to distribute the food free among the poor rather than getting the same rotten. First Agriculture Minister and later Prime Minister clearly declined to abide by ‘instructions’ of Supreme Court. The Prime Minister however commented that it would be better if court leaves the policy making job to the government.
Even If we accept Prime Minister’s argument in reference to the current issue, fundamental question remains that is it not the duty of the policy makers (government) to build sufficient warehouses and cold storages, so that the wealth of the nation does not go waste in this manner. It is unfortunate that even after 63 years of independence, the country is still facing the shortage of warehousing facilities and food grains and other perishable agricultural produce go waste for want of storage facilities. This problem assumes even more serious implications in light of the fact that for the last at least 3 years the country is facing serious agricultural crisis. Production of almost all food grains, pulses, oil seeds, sugar cane etc. has been declining continuously. The government is yet not paying adequate attention to the development of agriculture. And further due to lack of sufficient storage facilities, the farmer is compelled to sell his produce at what ever price he gets.
Government has been saying that it is in the favor of procurement of agricultural produce by the private companies. Procurement of agricultural produce by the domestic and multinational companies has given rise to hoarding and profiteering, causing havoc for the common man. Despite continuously rising prices of agricultural produce government is not ready to mend its policy of neglect of agricultural sector.
Whatever development had taken place in the field of agriculture is getting nullified due to this ‘criminal’ neglect. In the pre liberalization period, per capita availability of all agricultural items has been rising. For instance the per capita availability of food grains has increased to 510 gram per capita per day in 1990-91, which has come down to only 436 grams by the year 2008-09. Sugar cane production in the last two years has fallen by 23 percent, which has been the major cause of three fold increase in the price of sugar. For edible oils and pulses our country has been excessively dependent on imports for the last few decades.
Though the government has been boasting about various schemes for the development of warehousing, rotting of food grains exposes all such claims. This is because of the fact that the government has failed to provide for sufficient funds for the development of warehousing in the country. Planning commission has estimated that Rs. 7687 crores would be required to build warehouses and cold storages in the country.
Instead of making provisions for this investment, the government is trying to find an easy way and has expressed its intention to open up retail sector for multinational corporations. The argument of the government is that these multinational companies would help us building warehouses and cold storage which are lacking in the country.
In this context it is worth noting that foreign investment is already allowed in building of warehouses and cold storages for about a decade. But no foreign investment is forthcoming in this sector. It is unfortunate that instead of accepting its failure in providing warehouse facilities and thereby rotting of food grains, government is trying to shed its responsibility for future also. There are genuine apprehensions of the people that if foreign investment is allowed in retail sector, there would be dangerous consequences on employment in this sector. It looks fishy that the government is still arguing for foreign investment in retail sector for a meager sum of Rs. 7687 crores, which itself is doubtful. It may be interesting to note that total central budget for the year 2010-11 it is more than Rs. 11 lakh crores.
Today India is undergoing a serious farm crisis. Food grain production is almost stagnant. Per capita availability of almost all food grains is going down. There are only a few states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu etc., which are surplus grain producing states. Government could procure food grains for building buffer stock from these states only. There has been a serious complaint of Punjab farmers that there were no storage facilities for them, causing heavy wastage of their produce. Lot of food grains one still laying in open for want to storage in Punjab. Situation is no better in other states.
For some time talks are on for providing food security for our countrymen. Legislation is also being made in this regard. But government’s apathy in building basic infrastructure like warehouses speaks of hollowness of such claims.