Food Basket of the Country on Agitation Against Government Frameups


New Delhi:

Punjab, the granary of India

Punjab (land of the five rivers) is one of the most fertile regions on earth. Punjab State which has earned the name of “Food Basket of the Country” & “Granary of India” has been contributing 40 percent of rice and 50-70 percent of wheat for the last two decades. Punjab is not only self-sufficient in producing food grains but also contributes around 60% of food grains to the central pool. Agriculture in Punjab state is highly intensive in terms of land, capital, energy, nutrients, agriculture inputs, and water, etc. With only 1.5% of the geographical area of the country, Punjab has produced about 22% of wheat, 10% of rice, and 13% of cotton of the total production of these crops in the country during 2001-02. The Firozepur District is the largest producer of wheat and rice in the state. The largest area is under the wheat crop. Other important crops of the state are rice, cotton, sugarcane, pearl millet, maize, barley, and fruit.

Role Played by FCI in ensuring food security

FCI plays a significant role in India’s food security by effective price support operations for safeguarding the interests of the farmers, distribution of food grains throughout the country for the public distribution system, and maintaining a satisfactory level of operational and buffer stocks of food grains to ensure National Food Security.

Private Sector: Strengthening India’s food security by partnering with FCI

A select few private players have been entrusted (through open tenders floated by the government) to handle FCI’s wheat by facilitating the procurement from farmers. As a practice, they store food grains in high tech Silos equipped with the latest fumigation & preservation techniques for 2-4 years and dispatch it in bulk form through special trains across India. It is estimated that since inception, some of the prominent private food storage facilities have registered an average direct receipt, from farmers, of around 80000 MT per year in the last 5 years.

Wheat is procured from the farmers by the Food Corporation of India and payment is generally credited by FCI within 48-72 hours. The private sector acts as a custodian of the wheat which remains the property of FCI.

Impact of Farmers Blockade

The farmers partially started blocking some rail tracks from 24th September. They were hopeful that the Punjab Government might bring some legislation to mitigate the impact of the bills on the farmers but they were clearly not satisfied by the efforts of the government although they welcomed the initiative. So, from 1st October, the blockade was extended to all the tracks in the state.

Impact on Movement of Armed Forces

Punjab, being strategically located, the rail routes to Himachal, J&K, and Ladakh pass through it. As the blockades were extended throughout Punjab and the movement of trains stopped, the military, which was stocking up materiel in the Himalayas to challenge the Chinese incursion in Leh-Ladakh, quietly shifted to transporting its goods by trucks, though movement by truck is almost twice as costly as that by railroad. 

Impact on Farmers & Industry

Farmers, those who were cultivating their lands, complained about the shortage of fertilizers and other agricultural inputs that would have come by train. Industrialists complained about their inability to meet export commitments since trains had been stopped. Manufacturers rued the absence of material to manufacture.

Financial Cost on Industry

As per the State Government statement, the industry has suffered losses of Rs. 30,000 crore. More than 13,500 containers were lying at Dhandari Dry Port. Nearly 10,000 such containers are carrying goods imported from other countries.

Impact on Revenue of Railways

As of 24.11.2020, the Indian railways had suffered a revenue loss of 2200 cr due to the agitation with 4000 goods trains being canceled.

The shutdown of Power Plants

The state government had been trying its level best to persuade the farmers to lift the blockages of the tracks in the larger interest of the state but this did not evoke a positive response from the farmers till the thermal power plants in the state reported that they had exhausted their coal reserves and, in the absence of fresh supplies, were planning to shut down the generation of electricity. The fear of power outages seemed to have had an impact.

The Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) had also raised an alarm that the coal stocks in three privately owned thermal power plants at Rajpura, Talwandi Sabo, and Goindwal Sahib would dry up soon.

Halting of Grain Movement

With the complete stoppage of rail movement in the state, the situation is such that grain stocks in the state are piling up, with the stock of rice and wheat touching 215 81.46 lakh MT. It would be a tough task for the state agencies to manage the pile-up as fresh paddy crop, for which the procurement has already begun, is already reaching the storage points.

As of 23.11.2020, the procurement in Punjab by the FCI as well as the state agencies stands at 201.99 Lakh Mt. As against the total storage capacity of 125.18 Lakh MT, stocks held are to the tune of 81.46 Lakh MT (October 2020 figures) 

Impact on FCI aligned Private Sector

As the farmers did not allow the passenger trains to move and goods trains of some private thermal power plants, as well as private food grain operators, were also blocked, the railways suspended all train movement in and out of Punjab till the farmers cleared all the tracks and allowed movement of all trains.

On 22.11.2020, the farmer’s associations held a meeting with CM Punjab and assured him that they would allow the movement of all trains in Punjab. Normal rail movement was restored by 24.11.2020 evening. Regarding movement from private plants at Moga, the farmers association had stated that they would allow empty rake to move out from the plant but will not allow the loading to take place. The district administration is holding talks with the association to allow the loading of the rakes to take place from the plant.