Haryana/ Punjab: The government’s annual food procurement — which takes place between September-October (for rice) and April-July (for wheat) — is critical to ensure the country’s food security, particularly for the poor. With double-digit inflation, low rice stocks and assembly elections in five key states starting next month, the government has been working furiously in rice growing states such as Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh (due for elections). Besides releasing stocks for open market sales, the government also channels grains at subsidized prices through the public distribution system for the poor.
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The process of collecting rice and distributing it to the country’s poor is a complex one, and involves the Union and state governments, their agencies, farmers, rice shellers, the railways and the roadways. After paddy is harvested, it is taken to the mandis to be procured by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and state government agencies. It is then sent to rice millers for dehusking, and finally stored in FCI godowns to be sent in lots to the rice deficient states.
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At this time of the year in the interiors of Punjab and Haryana, there are long queues of trucks outside rice mills and FCI godowns. Busy rice shellers check the moisture content of paddy before putting it in machines to convert it into rice. “Due to extended rains, the moisture in paddy has been high...we can only mill paddy with a moisture content of less than 15%,” says Umesh Garg, owner of Shriram Rice and General Mills, a small rice miller in Dhand village of Haryana’s Kaithal district. His workers spend hours drying the paddy in the sun. Just next to Garg’s mill, while the FCI godown is full of rice and wheat, thousands of bags containing paddy procured by Haryana’s procuring agency, Hafed, lie in the open for lack of storage facilities.
In wheat, however, the government has learnt a lesson and started a pilot project with the private sector. A few kilometres away, the government, in partnership with the Adani Group, has inaugurated a state-of-the-art storage and transportation facility for wheat. The mammoth steel silos can store up to 200,000 tonnes (an additional 200,000 tonnes can be stored at similar facilities in Moga, Punjab) for two years without human intervention and with in-house drying and fumigation facilities.
FCI chairman and managing director Alok Sinha flagged off the rakes connected to the silos on 14 October. They are headed for Navi Mumbai, from where the wheat will go to Maharashtra’s ration shops. The technology is not yet suitable for paddy that has higher moisture.
Further north, in Punjab, the procurement of paddy goes on in the traditional manner. In the Rajpura mandi, Patiala district, farmers who have brought paddy discoloured by the unexpected rains and floods are being packed off. The good grain is ready to be sold to the consumer.
Photographs by Madhu Kapparath/Mint