Facing space crunch to store food grain, Punjab sends SOS to Centre

Punjab is reeling from an unusual crisis. The state doesn't have enough space to store the bumper food grain crop it reaps every year.

In the last couple of years, stocks have piled up and there is no space to preserve wheat, for which procurement will commence in the first week of April.

The state proposes to procure 125 lakh tonnes of wheat this season and has sent an SOS to the Centre that unless adequate space is made available, the exercise could be jeopardised.

Officials said the crisis was because Food Corporation of India (FCI) was not lifting stocks from Punjab at the required pace for distribution in other states. As a result, about 60 lakh tonnes of wheat and 45 lakh tonnes of rice are lying in warehouses, leaving little space for the new crop.

Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has written to Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, seeking immediate steps to resolve the crisis with a potential to spark farmers' unrest. With the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, the Akali Dal-BJP government cannot ignore the grim situation.

Potato-growers in the state were up in arms last month after their produce did not yield enough returns due to a glut in the market.

Food and supplies minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon said normally, the state's markets received 10 to 12 lakh tonnes of wheat in March before procurement commences. But this year, the figure has touched a whopping 58 lakh tonnes.

The minister said he had already met PMO officials, Pawar and even planning commission vice-chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. "I have requested them to move the wheat stocks out of the state," he said.

Asked if any steps were being taken to resolve the space crisis, Kairon said new plinths were being constructed on a war-footing in various parts of the state. The government had also sent a proposal to the Centre for a World Bank-funded project to improve infrastructure, he added.

Kairon said the ongoing strike by jute units in West Bengal had added to the state's woes. The strike means there could be acute scarcity of gunny bags during procurement. The government proposes to meet this shortage by using plastic bags to pack fresh wheat. Kairon said the government had increased the storage charge to 50 paisa per bag per month to encourage private parties to create storage space.

Ajay Bharadwaj/ DNA-Daily News & Analysis Source: 3D Syndication

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