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May 10, 2011 at 02:47pm IST

Grain burning in godown: activist to move SC

New Delhi/ Chandigarh: Biraj Patnaik, a special advisor to the Supreme Court, will bring the case of rice being burnt at a godown in Punjab to the court's attention. Patnaik will take up the cause just a day after CNN-IBN reported how thousands of tonnes of rice in Punjab was burnt to ashes after lying in the open for five years.

"Hundred children die of malnutrition every hour. We have been raising it for the past two years. Your channel has been shown it so often. We want to show it to the bench of the Supreme Court. At is completely appalling that this should happen," says Patnaik.

The apex court had already directed the Central Government to provide grain for free to those in need, as opposed to letting it go to waste.

Tens of thousands of tons of rice stocked for the last five years in the open caught fire at a Punjab Agro storage area in Khamano, a large procurement market, and have been reduced to ashes.

Inadequate wheat storage had been highlighted in 2010 as grain rotted away in the Punjab in the open and also thousands of tons were submerged underwater in Haryana. This year it the turn of rice to go waste.

Khamano residents informed that the rice grain had been stored for the last five years in the open and there had been no lifting of the stock. Over the years the rice gradually rotted away, and now with the summers the rotting grain has caught fire.

Even as mountains of rice smolder away, there are tens of thousands tons more of rice in an area of more than a kilometer which is likely to meet a similar fate.

One would have thought after the wrath by Supreme Court in 2010, one would have thought that things would improve but have not improved just yet. Just three lakh tonnes of additional storage capacity have been added, while additional fifty lakh tonnes is expected to at the mandi. The grain will start to rot in the monsoon as it starts to rain because of open storage..

The perfect storm is to created for Several reasons. One of which is, it's going to be a bumper crop this time much more than it was in 2010.

Secondly, railway racks are not available to move the grain from here.

Thirdly, the grain consuming states like Madhya Pradesh and Orrisa have become self-sufficient. They no longer want the grain from the Punjab and Haryana.

Fourth, there is a ban on export of wheat.

The Union Ministry of Agriculture had in early February estimated that the 2010-11 harvest of foodgrains will be at 2,321 lakh tonnes, the second highest of all time. Of this, the rice harvest was estimated at 940 lakh tonnes and wheat at 815 lakh tones.

This bumper harvest is likely to pose significant storage challenges. As of mid-February, the total effective capacity available for storage stood at less than 300 lakh tonnes of which more than 75 per cent was in use.

The government’s food grain procurement target for the upcoming season is of 263 lakh tonnes.

This is only an indicative target and can rise if harvests are higher. Union Minister of State for Food and Consumer affairs KV Thomas said that the Centre Government is planning to increase food grain storage capacity in Punjab and Haryana by 150 lakh tons, including 50 lakh tons in Punjab and 35 lakh tones in Haryana. He also said that not much grain has gone waste.

MOS, food and consumer affairs KV Thomas said "His statement that lakhs and lakhs of grain is rotting is not correct. You can yourself verify. But I understand there is some quantity which is left open and we are taking all adequate measure to improve the storage."

Plans may be getting laid for the future but for now the storage scenario in Punjab and Haryana is bleak. The Punjab government is passing the buck saying it is the center’s responsibility to lift the grain stock.

Chairman, Punjab Agro Sharanjit Dhillon said, "It is the Center’s job to lift the stock. What can we do if stock is not being lifted?"

Even as passing the buck and plans for the future continue to be laid out, grain is still rotting away in large quantities in the grain bowl of the country.

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