April 26, 2020

‘Unethical to Offload Surplus Food Stock at High Prices during Crisis’

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat, urged union minister Ram Vilas Paswan to release the 54.3 million tonnes of food grain stock lying with the Food Corporation of India free to the poor through the Public Distribution System (PDS). In a letter written to the food and public distribution minister on April 19, she condemned the government’s move to sell the food grain stock to NGOs for relief work, at high prices during this crisis period.

“The government has, as on April 7, 54.2 million tonnes of foodgrains in storage which is far above the required buffer stock. In spite of all its efforts it has failed to sell this huge surplus stock through e-auctions for commercial purposes. This stock is rotting in the FCI godowns and as is known the government needs to dispose of the stocks to make space in its godowns  for the upcoming rabi wheat procurement. Now to try and offload this stock in the name of relief at these high prices to NGOs is shocking and unethical to say the least,” she wrote in the open letter.

The ministry had given permission to NGOs to buy rice and wheat directly from the FCI godowns for relief work at a reserve price fixed by the government without going through e- auctions. Brinda Karat pointed out that the government had however failed to disclose the fixed price at which NGOs are permitted to buy and that wheat and rice are being sold at extremely high prices of Rs 21.50 and Rs 22.50 per kg respectively. She said that the open market prices of wheat are lower in many markets than what is being offered by the government to NGOs for relief.

She stressed that it is the responsibility of the government to distribute the food grain stock for free at a time when starvation haunts crores of families without any income or work. “If it (the government) wants to involve NGOs and philanthropic organisations in relief work, surely its intention should not be to make profits in the name of relief from sales of stocks no one else is buying,” she wrote.

She also urged the government to distribute the food grains without applying the usual conditions of Aadhaar and ration cards as many sections of the population, particularly the migrant workers, do not have such identification. “The burden of the lockdown is falling disproportionately on the shoulders of India’s labouring classes. The policy of the government during the lockdown and in its aftermath should be suitably altered to address this reality,” she wrote.