Left to brave the Elements

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IF YOU are enjoying a piping hot plate of biryani anywhere in the world, chances are that the main ingredient came from the fields of Haryana. The state accounts for almost 60 percent of the basmati rice grown in the country and 40 percent of exports.

Basmati is much sought after in countries such as the US, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Indonesia and Malaysia. And the growing demand has helped rice producers and exporters in the state reap a rich harvest. However, the exporters suffered some setbacks recently when the US and Canada rejected rice consignments from Haryana due to high pesticide and moisture content.

A majority of the mills in the basmati hub of Karnal belong to the small and medium category and are open for only five months during the paddy season. So, the producers are forced to store the rice in FCI godowns. Due to poor facilities, the stored rice ends up with high moisture content. As the small mills don’t have the capacity to dry the rice, the quality of the rice takes a huge hit.

Vijay Setia, a Karnal-based rice miller and former head of the All India Rice Producers’ Association, says the government is guilty of turning a blind eye towards providing adequate storage facilities for rice growers. Even the FCI godowns have limited capacity and farmers are left to find their own storage, resulting in wastage and pushing up production costs.

Similarly, wheat is often stored in the open and covered with black plastic sheets. This results in an almost 10 degree rise in the temperature of the stored stock, leading to the build-up of dangerous toxins in the grain. Last month alone, according to one estimate, around 50,000 metric tonnes (MT) of wheat stored in various FCI godowns in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh was damaged due to poor storage facilities.

In the 2012-13 rabi season, 10 lakh MT of wheat in Uttar Pradesh was left to the elements, protected by just a tarpaulin sheet.

Due to the increase in foodgrain procurement and in a bid to reduce storage in the open, the FCI launched the Private Entrepreneur Godown (PEG) scheme in 2008-09 for creating additional storage capacity of 1.52 crore MT across the country with the help of private players. Uttar Pradesh’s share was to be 18.60 lakh MT.

However, the state has made little headway in the past five years. The UP State Warehousing Corporation (UPSWC) has added just 47,000 MT to its capacity, while the Central Warehousing Corporation’s godown with a capacity of 6,000 MT is unlikely to be operational before the monsoon.

Corruption has played a big role in derailing the state’s efforts to shore up its storage capacity. “The cancellation of tenders and re-tendering during the BSP government is the prime cause for the delay in the implementation of the PEG scheme,” says UPSWC MD Omkar Yadav. “Tenders for more than 3 lakh MT capacity were awarded to the cronies of the then cooperative and family welfare minister Babu Singh Kushwaha, but they refused to roll out the facilities after his dismissal over the National Rural Health Mission scam.”

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