GUWAHATI, Oct 21 – The Food Corporation of India (FCI) is working on increasing its storage capacity in the State and it has taken on board the private sector for this purpose.Bhaskar Hazarika, FCI General Manager (Assam), said on Monday that the corporation faces many challenges in the north- eastern region, including Assam, due to the zone’s geographical and topographical vulnerability and in maintaining buffer stocks for unforeseen emergencies.
“ The FCI is making great efforts to increase its storage capacity in the region by constructing storage depots under Plan Scheme by engaging private entrepreneurs under the Private Entrepreneurs Guarantee (PEG) Scheme and by hiring storage space. Storage capacity in FCI Assam region has been increased by 17 per cent from 2.78 lakh metric tonne (MT) in 2012 to 3.25 lakh MT in 2014,” he said.
He added that another 85,000 MT storage capacity is expected to be added by March 2015, including 50,000 MT capacity at Changsari.
“Construction of 75,000 MT capacity is also going on under the PEG scheme at Nagaon and Barpeta Road. Formalities for construction of a 25,000 MT storage capacity godown at Bongaigaon have been completed. There is also a plan to construct godowns in Kokrajhar, Dubrugarh and Silchar with minimum storage capacity of 25,000 MT,” Hazarika said.
Regarding allegations about poor quality of foodstuff secured from public procurement bodies, Hazarika said FCI does not have any control to check the quality of foodgrains once it is issued to the State Government and its responsibility ceases once the stock is lifted from its premises.
“At the time of distribution of foodgrains to states and union territories there is a well-defined procedure of joint inspection and sampling of the stocks by the State Government authority and FCI to ensure that only good quality foodgrains are issued under PDS. Ample opportunities are provided to the State governments to check the quality of foodgrains prior to lifting of stocks from FCI godowns. Samples of foodgrains are collected and sealed from the stocks of foodgrains to be issued under the PDS and other schemes jointly by FCI and State Food and Civil Supplies department.
An officer not below the rank of Inspector is deputed from the State Government to take the delivery of foodgrain stocks from FCI godowns,” he said.
He said that FCI is fully able to satisfy the 1.8 lakh MT demand of the State Government.
With regard to the labour intensive nature of work in FCI godowns, Hazarika said the process for introduction of mechanised loading and unloading has been taken up on a trial basis at Ramnagar in Silchar but frequent power cuts are a major handicap.
Asked about procurement of paddy from farmers in Assam, Hazarika admitted that lifting of grains is still very low in Assam, with FCI only procuring 30 MT from farmers in the State in 2013-14, while the State Government procured another 32 MT.
For 2014-15, the target is for the FCI to procure 30,000 MT of paddy from farmers in Assam, while the State Government is looking to procure another 40,000 MT.
"From November our staff will go to the field to train the farmers and from December procurement will start,” Hazarika said, adding that FCI will be setting up 25 paddy procurement centres (PPC) across the State, while another 40 will be set up by the Government.
He said that a major reason for low procurement from Assam was that the market price of paddy in the State was higher than the Minimum Support Price (MSP) announced by the State Government.
“There is also a limitation of milling capacity in this region. Besides, there is not much marketable surplus in Assam as most of the local produce is consumed by the farmers themselves,” Hazarika added.
Asked about the condition of foodgrain storage in Barak Valley and south Assam, besides Mizoram and Tripura, where rail connectivity has been temporarily suspended due to the ongoing Mega Block, Hazarika said, “FCI is maintaining a healthy stock of about 27,000 MT at various depots in Barak Valley. In October, after complete withdrawal of rail service to Barak Valley, about 10,000 MT stocks have already been moved by road.”