1,571 tonnes of food grains wasted between April and September due to COVID-19 lockdown

Between April and July, there were around 250 documented deaths due to starvation, distress and exhaustion

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)

Ashlin Mathew

At least 1,571 tonnes of food grains got damaged between April and September, at a time when the country was reeling from hunger, starvation and the job losses, as a result of the strict lockdown imposed by the Central government from March 24.

According to data released by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, no food grains were damaged in the months of March and April. In May, 26 tonnes of food grains (rice, wheat, coarse grains) got ruined, but in June, 1,453 tonnes of grains were damaged. In July and August there was wastage of 41 and 51 tonnes respectively.

Between April and July, there were around 250 documented deaths due to starvation, distress and exhaustion.

In April, Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had stated that the government had reduced wastage of food grains to negligible levels by adopting scientific methods of storage and distribution. He had said the government follows ‘First In, First Out’ (FIFO) policy to increase the shelf life of food grains.

“In 2019-20, the government purchased 75.17 million tonnes of food grains, out of which only 1,930 tonnes were wasted, which is 0.002% of the total procurement,” added Paswan.

However, as of May 1 this year, 60.5 lakh tonnes of wheat and 11.3 lakh tonnes of rice held by government was not “readily issuable” as it included grain that was sub-standard, partially spoilt or completely damaged. The grain that was not “readily issuable” was about 11% of the total stock of rice and wheat held by public agencies.

In four months, between January 1 and May 1, the stock of rice and wheat that was not “readily issuable” increased to 71.8 lakh tonnes from 7.2 lakh tonnes.

However, as of September 2020, only 33% of free food grains and 56% of free grams allocated under the package reached the beneficiaries, according to the data released by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.

Of the 8 lakh tonnes food grains (rice and wheat) allocated for migrants, 6.38 lakh tonnes (80 %) was taken by the states and Union Territories but only 2.64 lakh tonnes (33%) could be distributed to beneficiaries in four months (May-August).

Among the states, Gujarat took about 88% of the allotted food grains under this scheme, but distributed only 1%. At least 26 out of 36 states and Union Territories have taken 100% of the allotted food grains, but only Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland and Odisha reported 100% distribution of these grains.

The data from the Food Ministry showed that out of 29,132 tonnes of the gram allocation, states and Union Territories distributed about 16,323 tonnes (56%) till August 31. Only Delhi and Manipur have reported 100% distribution of gram. Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Telangana, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Ladakh and Lakshadweep have reported less than 10% distribution of gram.

The Modi government had announced that free grain would be distributed under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) until November to beneficiaries identified under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). This was to help them to tide over the economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a time when people have been dying of hunger, only 132.7 lakh tonnes of grain (40.9 lakh tonnes of wheat and 91.7 lakh tonnes of rice) were distributed by the government under PMGKAY and NFSA.

A survey conducted by the Dalberg Global Development Advisors in the second week of April found that 43% of households with Antyodaya or Below Poverty Line cards had not received free rations. A survey of 1,737 rural households in three states conducted by Mobile Vaani, a community radio service, found that 89% of respondents in Bihar, 63% in Jharkhand and 69% in Madhya Pradesh had not received free rations (through PMGKAY or state-level schemes).

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