Though a couple of months back I did write on this topic of Right to Food Act (refer April 18th, 2010 issue of TSI), I thought that one column could not have done justice to such a vast topic! Similar to what I wrote in my earlier column, there’s no doubt that the National Food Security Bill would come as a blessing for millions of families who sleep on empty stomachs; but the real question is, how will our authorities manage to mobilize this huge quantity of grains. Distribution in itself is a huge bottleneck, which I covered in detail in my previous column. But more than that, the other impediments are procurement and storage! Going by Food Security Bill recommendations, if the government has to distribute 420 kilograms of food grains to each of the 830 lakh BPL families every year, the government would require 350 lakh tonnes of grain every year! My skepticism behind the ‘success’ of this bill revolves around the current state of our Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns!

The obscene destruction of food grains in FCI godowns, which in reality are a real feast zone for rodents, is nothing new. But what’s most ironical is that despite food prices soaring up like never before, the government seems so very reluctant towards distributing their food grains, even those grain stocks that are on the verge of getting damaged, if not already damaged. According to reports obtained through the Right to Information Act, improper storage facilities and improper maintenance has destroyed a mind boggling 10,688 lakh tonnes of food grains over the years. What’s more shocking is that in spite of making allocation after allocation, and that too to the tunes of thousands of crores of rupees towards food safety and food subsidy, food-grain stocks worth Rs 50,000 crores had to be disposed off as waste over the past few years due to improper storage facilities. The incorrigibility of our authorities is so predominant that despite having knowledge about these damages, they still have not taken any adequate measures to improve the storage facilities. Otherwise, what else could be the logic behind the reliance on tarpaulin storage facilities for food grains. So much so that currently more than 170 lakh tonnes of grains are stored in tarpaulin facilities. The food grains stored under tarpaulin facilities not only have a low shelf life but also are exposed to frequent attacks by rodents. In the past, it was found that FCI’s godowns in a locality in Jaipur were found storing liquor for Rajasthan State Breweries Corporation, while wheat grains were left in the open.

If one goes by Planning Commission’s estimates that a family should be provided with 35 kg of food grains per month, then the food wasted over the years (since 1997 till 2010) could have fed 25,000 lakh families in one year, or 2500 lakh families over the last 10 years! This would have also been enough to feed 830 lakh BPL families (with 35 kg grains per month) over the next thirty years!!! In other words, adequate storage and systematic distribution infrastructure could have fulfilled the objective of national food security bill, all by itself! If mistakes of the past are to be overlooked (which shouldn’t be), the present stock of 590 lakh tonnes of grains stored in various FCI godowns could easily feed 1404 lakh BPL families for a year – and we would be still left with huge buffer stock that could be used in emergency for the future.     Read More....

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