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CONSUMER AFFAIRS, FOOD & PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION

K.V.Thomas Expresses Concern Over Low Foodgrains Offtake by the States
 Pawar Argues for Strengthening of Coarse Grains and Pulses Procurement
Food Ministers Meet to Review PDS

New Delhi: October 30,2012

Ensuring food security to the people of the country has been one of the most important areas of focus for the Government. In order to be in a state of readiness to deliver provisions of proposed National Food Security Bill there is urgent need to strengthen Public Distribution System. This was stated by Prof. K.V. Thomas, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution at the Conference of Food Ministers of States on here today.

He said that the country has witnessed record production of foodgrains in recent years. As a result, our granaries are full, still cases of shortage in availability of foodgrains are reported time to time which shows some shortfall in our distribution system. Urging the Food Ministers to regularly review the off take at their level, Prof. Thomas said that during the current year, record allocations of 253.96 lakh tonnes have been made upto September, 2012 but offtake against the allocations is a matter of concern. Infact it not only leads to denial of subsidized foodgrains to the targeted beneficiaries, it also accentuates the storage problem and adversely affects the subsequent procurements of foodgrains, he added.

Stressing upon the need for creation of adequate storage facilities at all levels for safe storage of foodgrains, Prof. Thomas said that rotting of foodgrains, though sporadic, needs to be avoided at all costs. He said that Food Ministry is implementing Private Entrepreneurs Guarantee (PEG) Scheme. Under the Scheme, a capacity of 181.08 lakh tonnes is to be created in 19 States through private entrepreneurs and Central and State Warehousing Corporations. For each State, nodal agencies have been designated and all assistance is required to be provided by the State so that the capacities allotted can be completed within a reasonable time frame. At present, about 31 lakh tonnes of storage capacity has been completed under the scheme, and 20.55 lakh tonnes has been taken over. A cumulative capacity of 73 lakh tonnes is targeted to be completed by March, 2013. There is need to ensure that planned capacities are created in stipulated time, without any slippages, and put to use, he said. He also highlighted the need for creation of intermediate storage facilities, especially for public distribution purposes, under the Gramin Bhandaran Yojana of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation and Rural Infrastructure Development Fund of NABARD.

Union Food Minister said that checking leakages and diversion of foodgrains has been a challenge for the successful implementation of the public distribution system, a number of steps have been taken to address this problem. He said Use of technology can play a big role in this and some States especially Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have taken commendable steps in computerisation of various PDS operations. The Central Government intend to deploy ICT tools in a big way and a blueprint for end-to-end Computerization of TPDS Operations has been prepared. As a first step in this direction, a scheme covering Digitization of ration cards/beneficiaries and other databases, Computerization of Supply-Chain Management, Setting up of Transparency Portal and Grievance Redressal mechanism has been approved for implementation on cost sharing basis with States. He solicited cooperation of states in successful implementation of this scheme

Prof. Thomas said that the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution in one of their reports has recommended that the matter regarding increase of commission of FPS owners should be taken up with the State Governments for a reasonable increase as it would make the FPS owner economically sustainable. He requested State Ministers to review the prevailing margins to FPS owners in their States and revise it suitably.

On the issue of direct transfer of food subsidy, Prof Thomas said that to check the leakage and diversions, an alternate model of direct transfer of food subsidy is being considered. Suggestions of States/UTs on the alternate models have been called for on the issue. In the meantime, a pilot scheme would be taken up shortly in some Union Territories to assess the efficacy of the proposed alternative model, before its implementation in other States. He also raised the issue of wastage of food and menace of misleading advertisements with the states and urged them to run campaign to create public awareness about these issues.

Addressing the Food Ministers from the States, Shri Sharad Pawar, Union Agriculture Minister said that the key to the success of the modernization of TPDS lies in the re-engineering of all its components and massive expansion of the infrastructure related to procurement, storage and distribution. We need to fast track this process. He said that Issue of food security has two aspects: overall availability of food grains and its efficient distribution. On the availability front, the country had very good production in the last few years. Although initial kharif estimates point towards marginal drop in total food grains this year, we are hopeful of achieving a total of 250 million tonnes during 2012-13 with good prospects of Rabi crop, he added.

Shri Pawar said that program of “Bringing Green Revolution in Eastern India” is showing commendable progress and paddy production in the country is poised to steadily increase in the coming years. However, together with the increase in paddy production in Eastern States, there is need to strengthen the procurement machinery in these states, not only to ensure remunerative prices for farmers but also to diversify the geographical coverage as the traditional procurement states, namely Punjab and Haryana which have reached a stage of saturation, he stresses.

Emphasizing on the procurement of hitherto neglected coarse cereals, Shri Pawar said that the success in wheat and rice production can be largely attributed towards effective procurement arrangements for these. “If we could develop similar arrangements for pulses, then I am confident that in a short time we can become self-sufficient” he said.

Highlighting the importance of sound marketing infrastructure, Shri Pawar said that in order to ensure continued agriculture growth, marketing infrastructure needs to be revamped for the benefits of all the farmers. State Governments backed by the Food Corporation of India and the Department of Food and Public Distribution will have to authorize additional agencies to take up procurement work, mobilize financial and other resources for smooth conduct of operations, develop additional storage facilities for safekeeping of grains, and make appropriate arrangements for transporting the grains from the procurement centers to the storage points. He said that states have to play a larger role in providing adequate procurement arrangement.

Impressing upon the States to remain vigilant on the price being paid to the farmers by the private trade, Agriculture Minister said that tendency to suppress the price because of large arrivals due to bumper harvest is quite common. Monitoring of prices especially in places where organized markets do not exist or where markets have been completely deregulated is an added responsibility which the State Marketing Boards should discharge diligently. It is necessary to safeguard farmers’ interests by opening more procurement centres, he added.

The conference was also addressed by Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia . He said to ensure that benefits of PDS reach to targeted beneficiaries, option of direct transport of subsidy should be experimented. He also emphasized the need of timely export of food grains in view of increasing global prizes so that advantage can be taken in the interest of farmers.

States Food Ministers meet was held today to review PDS and to consider measures to further strengthen it. The meeting discussed ways to improve off take of food grains by the states, increasing the viability of Fair Price Shops (FPSs), doorstep delivery of food grains at FPS, improving intermediate storage capacity and direct transfer of the food subsidy to the consumers.

The meeting was chaired by the Minister for Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution System, Prof. K.V. Thomas. Besides Food Ministers from the states, senior official from various central ministries-Agriculture, Food, Finance and Planning Commission also attended the meeting.


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