ibnlive » India

May 21, 2008 at 08:10pm IST

Imported red wheat worth Rs 3.7 cr sold as chicken feed

New Delhi/Mumbai: As much as 12,000 tonnes of imported red wheat will be sold off as animal feed while another 1,000 tonnes will be simply buried.

The Maharashtra Government, in a government order dated May 9, has sanctioned the disposal of the red wheat.

Another 18,000 tonnes will be disposed off thorugh open tenders.

The wheat was given to the state government before October 31, 2007 , to be sold through the public distribution system.

The poor quality of the red wheat led to strong protests and lab tests confirmed that the wheat was, indeed, unfit for human consumtion.

The red wheat was imported by the Government of India at an average cost of approximately Rs 1,200 per quintal. The imports were meant to sustain the supplies through the Public Distribution System, meant to be the safety net of the poor against hunger.

However, the high costs of the imports never justified the poor quality, in the first place.

Now the Maharashtra Government is working overtime to dispose off the stocks of the red wheat lying across the state's warehouses. That means that an incredible 31,000 tonnes of wheat was imported, to be either bought or buried!

Maharashtra's Food and Civil Supplies minister, Sunil Tatkare, affirmed this.

"Out of 31,000 crore, 18,000 is fit for human consumption, but we are disposing it off. Another 10,000 to 12,000 tonnes is fit only for animal consumption," he said.

The fact is that 31,000 tonnes of wheat could have fed about three lakh people for nearly a year!

It will be now up to the district collectors to dispose off the imported red wheat.

The wheat will be classified into three categories for disposal. The wheat fit for human consumption will be sold at a base price of Rs 670 per quintal - almost half the cost of imports. In fact it is the price that peeple with APL cards pay for their foodgrains. The second category is wheat fit for animal consumption. Hopefully, poultry farm-owners would come to the Government's rescue and chickens will feed on food meant for humans. The third category is imported red wheat which even animals cannot eat. The Government has said this wheat is unfit for either human or animal consumption and has to be buried. The government will have to pay for the burial cost.

The story does not end there, though.

The dismantling of the procurement system is another issue. Last year, for instance, market arrivals in India were to the tune of 154.30 lakh tonnes.

Of these, 111.28 lakh tonnes were procured by the Government. The rest - 43 lakh metric tonnes - was procured by private traders.

Subsequently, India imported 17.8 lakh metric tonnes. The same story was repeated for the second year in a row.

Ironically, the Agriculture Minister could not sell the imported wheat in his own home state and might have to face a political storm in an election year. The question being asked now is why was such poor quality wheat imported, in the first place?

With a looming global food crisis, and more than seven per cent inflation chipping away at the one meal that the poor could afford, the Agriculture Minister has a lot to answer, especially when imported wheat ends up as chicken feed.

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