Wheat grains being cleaned in Punjab mandis
This has become a usual irritant. Every harvest season, there is no place to stock the fresh arrivals in Punjab and Haryana (and now in Madhya Pradesh, the new entrant in wheat production). With harvesting delayed by over a fortnight in Punjab because of freak weather conditions, it is still a depressing site to see heaps of wheat grain lying in the mandis.
Despite all the hue and cry for some years now over the failure to provide adequate storage capacity, news reports say that on April 1, although Punjab has a stored grain capacity of 14.3 million tonnes but space for 12.1 million tonnes was occupied by the previous year crop harvest. With nearly 14 million tonnes of wheat expected to be procured this year from Punjab alone, roughly about 70 per cent will have to be kept in the open.
Even the CAP storage -- covered and plinth -- wherein gunny bags are placed on a raised platform covered by a black tarpaulin, the total storage space available is 11.4 million tonnes out of which 4 million tonnes is presently occupied. We are all aware that foodgrains kept in CAP storage is prone to damage.
In neighbouring Haryana, wheat procurement is expected to be around 8.73 million tonnes. The actual procurement maybe a little less than the target envisaged because as per reports pouring in the villages along the Rajasthan border are selling wheat across the border to take advantage of a bonus that is being offered.
Well, if you thought the problem of storage is becoming acute this year, let me share with you the headlines of newspapers for the past three years. "Punjab, Haryana fall short of storage space for bumper wheat crop," screamed India Today (June 22, 2011). "Punjab, Haryana face problem of plenty' -- Times of India (May 3, 2012) and in 2013 --" Huge wheat stocks at risk in Punjab, Haryana" Business Line (July 14, 2013).
But have we drawn any lessons from this callous neglect? How long can India afford to let foodgrains be damaged and become unsuitable for human consumption?
Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh has emerged as a major wheat producer. It expects to surpass the production levels achieved in Punjab. But again, the State faces a big hurdle when it comes to storage. It has a capacity to stock 11 million tonnes in both covered and CAP storage but like in Punjab much of the space is occupied by the previous year's crop.
Overall, India is expecting a lower procurement of about 25 million tonnes of wheat against the target of 31 million tonnes. This will however not pose any problems on the food availability front considering that the country has a comfortable food stock of 48 million tonnes of wheat and rice already stacked from the previous harvests.