The dreaded coronavirus pandemic has emerged to be a ‘bright spot’ for Punjab as increased demand for foodgrains has helped clear 20 million metric tonnes of stock that was clogging its storage facilities since the last three years, finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal told Business Standard.
“While we are fighting Covid, it is also a bright spot for Punjab. We were sitting on almost 20 million metric tonnes of foodgrains that the government of India was not evacuating as there was no demand. Now the demand has significantly gone up. With no passenger train traffic, 30 odd trains are carrying foodgrains to supply to different parts of the country,” said Badal in an interview to Business Standard.
In order to ensure food availability to the poor amid Covid lockdown, the Centre is giving an increased allocation of 5 kg food grains per person and one kg of pulses per household under PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana to 80 crore beneficiaries.
Besides, it has helped state save on the Rs 1800 crore annually to account for deterioration of foodgrains at the storage facilities.
“While the foodgrains belong to the government of India, we are the custodians, so we have to bear the deterioration cost,” said Badal.
This will help the state cut deterioration expense as revenue sources dry up amid country-wide lockdown. Punjab has put a hold on all capital expenditure till August 1 and is making a list of all expenditures that can be curtailed.
Badal further said that the evacuation exercise has created space for the upcoming bumper harvest.
State revenues have been hit as the ‘purchase tax’ on foodgrains was subsumed under GST.”
“With the implementation of GST, Punjab was affected the most as we would get tax on our foodgrains. Our state was structurally damaged due to that. Therefore, compensation is very crucial to Punjab,” said Badal.
The Food Corporation of India (FCI) in the last 14 days (from March 24 to April 06) has moved around 0.14 million tonnes of foodgrains on an average every day which is almost 80 per cent more that what it used to move in the pre-lockdown period daily.
So far, states such as UP, Bihar, Telangana, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala and Mizoram have started lifting additional quantities of wheat and rice from the Central pool.
The Centre has assured states that it has enough quantities of wheat and rice in its warehouse for distribution through ration shops.
India has almost India’s wheat and rice stocks in Central pool as on March 10, 2020 is estimated to be around 77.72 million tonnes (that includes 19.24 million tonnes of unmilled paddy), while the total annual requirement of grains to smoothly run the NFSA based on last three years’ average is around 54 million tonnes.
In short, even before the country has started its annual wheat procurement for the 2020-21 season from April 1 it has in its warehouses more than a year’s quota of ration.