The decision of the State government to introduce jowar and ragi at Re. 1 a kg under the Anna Bhagya scheme has been widely welcomed by people in areas where rice is not the staple. However, it appears as if this announcement was taken without adequate thought on the availability of these grains and a plan in place to procure them.
The process of procurement, despite the government’s decision to give Minimum Support Price (MSP) to farmers growing these grains, is not that easy.
This is particularly true of ragi, which is predominantly grown and consumed in southern parts of the State alone. As per the estimates of the department, about 3.6 lakh tonnes of jowar and 2.4 lakh tonnes of ragi are required every month for the Anna Bhagya scheme.
Department officials admit there is not enough stock of these two grains to supply for even two months. Unlike rice, which is available in plenty not only across India, but also abroad, availability of jowar is confined to a few southern States and ragi is limited mostly to Karnataka, an official said.
An official of the Food and Civil Supplies Department said even if tenders are floated immediately for their procurement, as stated by Food and Civil Supplies Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao, it would take at least 60 days for the process to be completed. With jowar and ragi not available in the market at present, one can predict the fate of those tenders, he said.
The average production of these two cereals during the five-year period 2006-07 to 2010-11 was 14 lakh tonnes (jowar) and 12 lakh tonnes (ragi).
Bangalore Wholesale Food Grain Merchants’ Association president Rameshchandra Lahoti said ragi has become particularly scarce as there is an increased demand for the cereal by “health-conscious customers”.
Price could soar
Its price at the wholesale market is already about Rs. 24 a kg, and if the government steps in to buy it for the Anna Bhagya scheme, the price is bound to soar affecting those not covered under the scheme. This could be a large chunk, considering the extent of exclusion errors in the categorisation of Below Poverty Line families.
Another official of the department said that chances of jowar and ragi entering the open market through the black market route are also bright given their scarce availability.