Stock level comfortable: Union Minister

Despite an under par monsoon and a drought-like situation in some States, there is no need to panic on the essential food commodities front, said K. V. Thomas, Union Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, on Friday.

In spite of a projected rainfall deficiency of 23 per cent this season, the food stock position, especially for rice, wheat and sugar, was comfortable and the Centre was confident of managing the situation, Mr. Thomas said while interacting with reporters on the sidelines of the launch of the third edition of ‘FoodCon 2012 on Advanced Technologies for the Global Food Market’, hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

“We have enough rice for the next one year and sufficient stocks of wheat for the next three years,” he said.

Mr. Thomas said the food grain production this year was likely to surpass the record levels of 245 million tonnes achieved in 2010-11 by aggregating 257 million tones. Sugar production output was also on course to aggregate 250 lakh tonnes.

However, there is likely to be a shortage of vegetables, fruits and pulses and edible oils in a country which is already importing 50 per cent of edible oils from Indonesia and Malaysia and pulses from Burma. The Government proposed to restart some of the subsidy programmes scrapped earlier to meet the drought—like situation in Karnataka, parts of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and areas of Central India, Mr. Thomas said.

The Centre was keeping a close watch on the food stock position and has convened high-level review meetings to monitor the situation and outline measures to avoid a crisis, he said.

In fact, the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGOM) headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on drought will meet next Tuesday to decide on the relief measures to be taken.

In reply to a question on whether the Centre would curb export some essentials in view of the deficient monsoon, Mr. Thomas said wheat exports out of government stocks by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) will be considered after studying the drought situation.

“What we want is a stable, practical and consistent export and import policy,” Mr. Thomas said.

Inadequate storage

The Minister said he was concerned about the inadequate storage facilities for foodgrains and edible oils. As the largest procurer of food grains, the Centre required a storage space of 80 million tonnes while only capacity for 64 million tonnes was available now, he said.

As a result of measures to curb wastage, food wastage of foodgrains had come down from around 25 per cent five years back to 0.0006 percent now, he said.

According to Mr. Thomas, States had not responded positively to the Centre’s suggestion to amend the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act that would enable farmers to sell their produce in the open market and reduce the 25-30 percent wastage of fruits and vegetables, Mr Thomas said.

The Centre had proposed that States build storage to hold at least three months of PDS stock.

Noting that private entrepreneurs were also reluctant to set up storage chains, he urged the industry to work with the Government to evolve long-term solutions.

The National Food Security Bill, Mr. Thomas said, is now under the consideration of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution which had already conducted two sittings. “We’re awaiting the outcome of the deliberations by the Standing Committee and further action will be taken accordingly to take the Bill forward,” Mr. Thomas said.

S. Chandramohan, chairman, CII sub committee on Economic Affairs and Taxation and A. Padmasingh Isaac, chairman of FoodCon also participated in the event launch.