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Our PickWhittling away food security

Whittling away food security

Published: 28th Nov 2021 12:01 am

By JR Janumpalli

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A virtual war is on between the Central and Telangana governments on the procurement of rice from the State. The Centre has imposed a blockade on the procurement of rice from Telangana.

Paddy production in Telangana has increased manifold since 2014 and its procurement has also increased accordingly. Its procurement has grown from 15.79 lakh tonnes in 2015-16 to 94.53 lakh tonnes in 2020-21. Even at the all-India level, rice procurement has increased — from 380.86 lakh tonnes in 2016-17 to 600.65 lakh tonnes in 2020-21. The production of paddy in Telangana in 2013-14 was 66.20 lakh tonnes, which increased to 251 lakh tonnes in 2020-21.

But in the present kharif season, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has refused to purchase paddy from Telangana citing lack of storage space, excessive reserve stock, parboiled rice in rabi, etc, putting the farmers of Telangana in a quandary. The Telangana government is complaining that the FCI is treating States differently.

Telangana is expected to produce 110 lakh tonnes of rice this kharif season while the offtake of 5 lakh tonnes is still pending from the previous rabi season. But as much as 135.89 lakh tonnes of rice from Punjab in the kharif season (2020-21) and 108.7 lakh tonnes in 2019-20 is reported to have been purchased by the FCI whereas from Telangana, it was only 94.53 lakh tonnes in 2020-21. The Telangana government is fighting this discrimination. It looks like the State is being punished for performing well in rice production!

Objectives of FCI

The FCI is the nodal agency of the Government of India for procurement and distribution of foodgrains. The FCI has three stated food policy objectives:

  • Effective price support operations for safeguarding the interests of the farmers
  • Distribution of foodgrains throughout the country for Public Distribution System (PDS)
  • Maintaining satisfactory level of operational and buffer stocks of foodgrains to ensure National Food Security.

The open-ended procurement policy is an integral part of the agricultural price support policy of India, for the two most important cereals —  rice and wheat.  The FCI, in concert with other state agencies, takes up the procurement of wheat and rice. This is done under the Price Support Scheme.

Open-ended procurement of foodgrains means the FCI is obligated to buy all the grains that farmers offer to sell at the prescribed procurement MSP (Minimum Support Price) as long as the grains meet a certain quality standard. This means the government is obligated to buy at MSP from any farmer who comes forward to sell. The Government of India announces the MSP prior to every kharif/ rabi season. This is done based on the recommendations of Commission of Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) reports.

The FCI procures foodgrains to ensure that effective market intervention is in place to keep the prices under check and also to ensure country’s food security. Achieving the goals of food security is an important mandate of the FCI and hence it oversees the distribution of foodgrains under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), National Food Security Act (NFSA) and other food-based welfare schemes such as Midday Meals, supply to welfare institutions and hostels, and schemes for adolescent girls, pregnant women. Apart from distribution under PDS/NFSA, the FCI also undertakes the supply of foodgrains for Defence and Paramilitary forces and during natural calamities.

The FCI also facilitates sale of surplus stock under the Open Market Sales Scheme. This is done to supply the markets with foodgrains, especially during the lean season, and to avert a situation of price rise due to lower supply of the foodgrains. The FCI is also supposed to transfer foodgrains to the deficit regions.

Parboiled Rice

Parboiled rice is a type of processed rice, principally partially boiled. The parboiled rice milling offers better yield with low breakage of rice grains. It is a rich source of calcium, fibre, potassium and vitamins such as B-6 and is also good for diabetic patients as it contains low amount of starch.

Parboiling increases nutritional value, decreases breakage and also changes the surface of cooked rice. Parboiled rice is widely used in frozen foods and as dry powders in instant soup mixes. It is available in three rice length forms such as long, medium and short.

Parboiled rice purchase has been an integral part of the procurement system since a very long time. It is made in Telangana and other States in the rabi season to reduce broken rice.  There is a market for it in some States in India and in some countries in Asia and Africa. Procurement of parboiled rice is very much part of the yearly rice procurement from Telangana.

Moreover, the procurement of rice is mandatory by the FCI and its associate state institutions for the TPDS. It is also mandatory to buy rice from farmers. And purchase of parboiled rice is also part of the regular procurement programme. Not buying more rice from Telangana and the parboiled rice in rabi season means the open-ended procurement system is not being followed. Further, trying to stop it now in a sudden move is unreasonable. Even if it is to be stopped, there needs to be some transition time and sufficient prior notice.

Another important aspect is making available foodgrains for distribution to all the targeted public. It does not seem to be happening now and with this step, it will only become worse. The poverty rate in the country is still about 22% of the population. The hunger index, which was hovering around rank 65 between 2009 and 2014, steeply fell to 80 in 2015 and is now in the 100s from 2017. This proves that the PDS is not addressing the hunger of targeted groups of people in full.

Shunning Responsibilities

Lack of storage space, excessive reserve stock, parboiled rice, etc, are the problems of the FCI and the Government of India. They need to discuss and work out solutions for these issues in proper forums while consulting and taking on board the States to make necessary arrangements to overcome those problems. The Central government must run the FCI and PDS more efficiently, modifying and modernising them to suit the changing circumstances and changing dynamics in food production and procurement.

Open market sales and export also need to be undertaken. The Centre simply cannot pass the buck to the States and stop the procurement at the last minute jeopardising the production and procurement schedule of the States leaving them and farmers in a huge financial quandary.

In the present imbroglio, the Centre is keeping Telangana on tenterhooks till the last moment without making its procurement intentions clear and also stoutly refusing to buy parboiled rice. As if it is not enough, the ruling national party’s State unit is adding insult to injury.

The BJP is creating a ruckus by demanding that the Telangana government buy all the rice produced in the State in a bizarre political prank. It looks like a deliberate political ploy to create an awkward situation for the TRS government.

The Centre’s approach amounts to transgression by the Centre in not honouring the open-ended procurement policy and trying to take advantage of the discomfiture of the State politically. It does not behove well for a national government to act this way in a public policy matter involving the welfare of farmers.

Farmer-unfriendly

  • The open-ended procurement policy is an integral part of the agricultural price support policy of India, for two most important cereals — rice and wheat 
  • Open-ended procurement of foodgrains means the Food Corporation of India is obligated to buy all the grains that farmers offer to sell at the prescribed procurement MSP as long as the grains meet a certain quality standard. This means the government is obligated to buy at MSP from any farmer who comes forward to sell
  • FCI has refused to purchase paddy from Telangana citing lack of storage space, excessive reserve stock, parboiled rice in rabi, etc, putting the State’s farmers in a quandary
  • This approach amounts to transgression by the Centre in not honouring the open-ended procurement policy and trying to take advantage of the discomfiture of the State politically

(The author is a freelance journalist)

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