The ban on wheat exports has not hurt Indian farmers as has been alleged by some ‘ignorant’ Opposition leaders, Union Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Minister Piyush Goyal said on Friday, stressing that the government’s pro-active decision had saved the country from a ‘catastrophic disaster’.
Promising a probe into all wheat export transactions, the Minister said the ‘immediate’ halt announced last month had ensured there were adequate stocks for domestic consumers and prices had already fallen about Rs. 5 a kilo at the retail level, Mr. Goyal said. Farmers, he argued, had already sold their produce before the ban, which was reflected in the government’s inability to procure more than 6 lakh tonnes of wheat after the ban.
“Farmers had already sold their produce, and having sold it, if they, the traders, would have indiscriminately exported it at high profit, beyond a point, it could have been harmful for our own food security, our own requirement and prices could have sky-rocketed,” he said.
While asserting that India was never a major wheat exporter, the Minister said it still had some stocks that could be sent to needy countries.
“Our concern was that traders, speculators and hoarders should not get control of this valuable wheat and then charge exorbitant prices from poor and vulnerable nations,” he said.
An inter-ministerial panel was examining some countries’ request for wheat and the government had sought a commitment that these consigments would be used only for their local populations.
“All exports of wheat, including those that were authorised, were being investigated and verified because some people had tried to cheat the ban by making back-dated applications and Letters of Credit (LCs),” he said.
“The government will come down strongly on anybody who has tried to backdate an LC, made an application for exports based on irregular documents, even those who have already got authorisation based on the online approval process, we are investigating each one of those also to verify,” the Minister emphasised.
Reacting to a report about Turkey rejecting Indian wheat, Mr. Goyal said India had never sent any wheat to the country and no one had raised quality concerns about Indian wheat in the last two years.
“An investigation is on but what we have learnt so far is that this consignment was exported by ITC Limited, which is large and reputed company even globally and there is no doubt on their quality standards and control procedures. You will be shocked to learn that ITC had sold this wheat to the Netherlands and was not even aware that this was for Turkey,” the Minister said.