CHENNAI: At a time when fears of another drought year are looming large, an RTI application filed by TOI has revealed that thequantity of foodgrains damaged in Food Corporation of India godowns across the country recorded a drastic jump over the last two years when the country lost more than 40,000 tonnes. Though the losses are attributed to natural calamities like cyclone and floods, experts say it is also an indication of poor storage facilities, pilferage and transit loss.
The reply from FCI, responsible for procurement and distribution of foodgrains, shows that the damaged quantity rose threefold in five years — from 6,346 tonnes in 2010-11 to 18,847.22 tonnes in 2014-15. While 3,338.01 tonnes were damaged in 2011-12 and 3,148.44 tonnes were damaged in 2012-13, as many as 24,695.45 tonnes suffered damage in 2013-14. A total of more than 56,000 tonnes of foodgrains, including 27,000 tonnes of rice and 26,000 tonnes of wheat, were damaged since 2010, the reply revealed.
However, it claimed that no damage could be directly attributed to lack of adequate storage and handling facilities but did not give the financial loss suffered. FCI chairman and managing director C Viswanath could not be reached for comment.
In 2014-15, Odisha topped the list with 7,108 tonnes, mainly due to the havoc wrought by cyclone Phailin in the coastal regions, followed by J&K (6,120 tonnes), where inundation caused by the unprecedented floods of September 2014 was the culprit. They were followed by Andhra Pradesh with 2,262 tonnes and Karnataka (747 tonnes). In 2013-14, West Bengal topped the list with 12,539 tonnes followed by Bihar (3,909.408 tonnes).
The FCI reply is especially significant after a recent United Nations annual hunger report estimated that India had the highest number of hungry people in the world at 194 million. As on June 1, there were 568.34 lakh tonnes of foodgrains with the FCI’s central pool.
Former Union minister of state for food K V Thomas told TOI that the percentage of foodgrains damaged had reduced from 2.5% of the total procurement in 2010 to 0.07% of the total procurement in 2013. “The UPA government had taken several initiatives to bring this down. We renovated most of the existing godowns and also increased the storage capacity. The procurement rate of foodgrains was also higher compared to the current year.”
He also said that foodgrains unfit for consumption had been destroyed based on reports submitted by health inspectors.
Consumer activists say the situation is alarming. R Desikan, founder-trustee of Consumers Association of India, said the Consumer Protection Act is not applicable to godowns as one can lodge a complaint only after the item is sold. “FCI officials should take stringent action against those responsible for loss of foodgrains in godowns. Food safety officials should also conduct regular inspections and ensure the stored grain is safe as India Meteorological Department (IMD) has already projected a drought year in the country,” he said.
In 2013, Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)’s report tabled before Parliament exposed the storage gap of FCI godowns.