In the normal course, one thinks in terms of the spectre of drought or food scarcity looming in the horizon.
Today, it is different. The spectre of foodgrains mountain is haunting us. The situation is so desperate that Dr Ashok Gulati, Ch
airman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices – very much part of the establishment – is driven to come out openly to issue the warning to Government as follows: With the bumper harvest, India will have a record foodgrains stocks of 75 million tonnes by end June 2012, when wheat procurement operations would be practically over. Unfortunately, our storage is woefully inadequate to accommodate such large stocks. The Food Corporation of India ( FCI) however has a covered storage capacity of some 31 million tonnes while state Agencies/ SWCS have covered capacity of some 15 million tonnes which is being used for storage capacity for central foodgrains stocks. Thus the total covered storage capacity for central foodgrains stocks is lower than 50 million tonnes. Thus about one- third of total stocks would have to be stored in the open and therefore would be vulnerable to damages, especially during the monsoon.
As it is TV channels have exposed how FCI mismanages its food stocks: by allowing the grains to rot during rains or by allowing rats to eat away part of the stocks. Dr Gulatis warning is therefore timely. Dr Gulati has offered several options of how best we can productively utilize these foodgrains.
Fortunately, one option he has not mentioned is large scale export of foodgrains.
It is necessary to highlight this point because this is what our policy- makers did in the early 2000s. The most disturbing aspect of food management was that India chose to export a huge quantity of 27 million tonnes of rice and wheat during the three consecutive years – 2001- 02 to 2003- 04. During this phase our policymakers were intoxicated with the market theology. They wanted to cut down food subsidy drastically. The poor must fend for themselves. They not only raised the issue price of foodgrains but also tightened the conditions of access to public sector foodgrains. The net result was that offtake of foodgrains from the public distribution system ( PDS) declined. There was thus a policy – induced build- up of foodgrains stocks upto 60 million tonnes.
No wonder our policy- makers sought the soft option of exporting foodgrains for tackling the so- called ” surplus foodgrains” problem. This was nothing short of development atrocity when viewed against the background of India being the abode of the largest number of under- fed and under- nourished persons in the world. What is worse, the same policy- makers who shunned subsidy for domestic consumption of foodgrains had no qualms about subsidizing export of foodgrains. I have earlier written that if Mahatma Gandhi were alive, he would have organised a satyagraha against such mindless pursuit of foodgrains management policy.
Our contemporary policy- makers are, of course, more sensitive to food security issues and in fact are moving towards more ambitious food security Bill which involves larger procurement and distribution of foodgrains. Of course, it has its own problems.
The point is that the export lobby is quite strong and our policy- makers would do well to remain uninfluenced by it.
The situation has also exposed the ” commitment deficit” of policy- makers.
We have been discussing the need to build adequate storage facilities not only for foodgrains but also for other agricultural commodities since the recommendations of the All- India Rural Credit Survey in 1956. We have resources to finance massive imports of gold annually to the tune of $ 50 billion but no money to build storage facilities for such critical commodities like foodgrains.
The spectre of foodgrains mountain can also be looked upon as a god- sent opportunity to take a second look at the basic approach to the proposed Food Security Act. One hopes that the framers of this act are shaken out of their sens