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May 22, 2012 at 09:48pm IST

Haryana: 80,000 sacks of wheat rot in the open

Palwal: Not just train mishaps but the last three years of UPA rule have also witnessed tonnes of foodgrain rotting away across the country while the poor starve. CNN-IBN has been running a sustained campaign to highlight the issue. Now, it reveals how 80,000 sacks of wheat rotting in the open in Haryana are being distributed to villages through the public distribution system.

The dry dust is all that remains of wheat stored at Ghugera, a Haryana granary, that is if you can call it one. So deep is the rot that wheat grain has coagulated into cakes, the decay is not restricted only to the wheat that is lying in the open. The polythenes can be lifted to see worms feasting, and multiplying. The strong wind in the open storage space threatens to blow away the blue polythene sheets that still cover some of the stacks of wheat. However, as the cover is rolled up, one can discover the damage underneath. Nearly 80,000 sacks of wheat procured by Haryana's agencies, some as early as 2010-11, lie abandoned. Of this 2015 metric tonne was procured in 2010-11 and, another 810 metric tonne was procured in 2009 by Haryana Food and Civil Supplies department. 80,000 sacks of wheat lie in the open right across a covered godown, which though dilapidated, is empty. The few wheat sacks here have also been damaged. The cobwebs all across tell you of months perhaps years of neglect.

The district food and civil supplies controller, Mr Diwan Sharma says that the condition of the wheat stored in Ghugera village of Palwal district cannot be described as good. He has already sent a letter to higher authorities to form a committee to salvage whatever can be salvaged.

But rotting wheat is not the worst part of the story. From open godowns in Bhaghola, Deoli and Ghugera, the rotted wheat has been systematically distributed through the public distribution system. In Dhatir village, the country's public distribution system is feeding livestock. Saroj shows us the animal feed she has prepared with the rotted grain she's bought through the public distribution system. She has a family of five to feed. Her husband sells vegetables in a horse cart and, each day the couple struggle to make ends meet. Saroj has a BPL card and needs to use every rotted grain that she has purchased, judiciously. She says her horse does not like the feed she makes with the rotted wheat and she has to mix it with some good wheat that she earns by working in fields. Another villager, Bharti shows whatever remains of the wheat she got through her BPL quota after feeding her cattle. Bharti says, "This quota wheat is not fit for human beings. In fact, it is not even fit for buffaloes".

But Dhatir is not an isolated example. In Ghugera, angry villagers tell us of the rotted wheat that has been regularly distributed through the public distribution system. Kartar Singh shows us wheat that is worm eaten and, covered with wheat dust. He says, "We got this bad wheat at least three to four times. The depot owner said that he got it from the state and he could not help it. We have complained but no one listens to us" . In Kela's house, all women are engaged in sorting out the better wheat from the rotted wheat. But Kela's stock not only shows rotted grains, it also has an unbelievable quantity of stones and dirt.

Even officially, both central and state governments are incurring huge losses every day on rotting grain. In Palwal, 1545 quintals of wheat has been auctioned as manure for as low as 165 rupees per quintal and, another 3100 quintals at an average of 600 rupees for animal feed. In Kulsipur, at Hafed's storage godown we found some of the auctioned wheat that was procured in 2008, still waiting to be lifted. And this wheat, auctioned for chicken feed and poultry actually looked better than what we found in villagers' houses.

Palwal is facing an acute shortage of storage space. With a covered capacity of just 5000 MT, a staggering 59,000 MT of wheat is lying in the open. And very few of them are covered. On the 14th of May, food minister K V Thomas told parliament that food grain can be stored in the open. Technically called cover and plinth, he even termed it as scientifc. But the ground reality tells a different story. What we saw can neither be called scientific not hygienic. Had the same wheat been stored in covered space, perhaps the damage would have been far less extensive.

And while the wheat rots, nearly 250 million people in the country struggle for a handful of grain.