'Food train' race to transport PDS grain to deficit states

NEW DELHI: Usually at this time of year, Food Corporation of India machinery across the country is busy coordinating the procurement of wheat. This year, the focus is on moving forward to meet the requirement of deficit states like Bihar, UP and that have to supply double the amount of food grains through the public distribution system to ensure that 80 million million people do not starve during closing.

On Tuesday, FCI moved 58 rakes, a record, with around 1.6 lakh tons of wheat and rice, compared to an average of 30-35 rakes. It was a similar story on Wednesday with 53-55 rakes expected to leave surplus states like Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Given the massive production and stocks in Punjab, almost 60% of the grains are moving out of the state.

Since March 24, when the government announced an additional 5 kg of free grain above the 5 kg duty, FCI has moved close to a million tons on more than 350 rakes, about 40 rakes per day. Some 250 rakes have been unloaded in the states, which must complete the first round of supplies before April 15.

FCI plans to move about five million tons of food grains in April, using an average of 50 rakes a day, said its president, D V Prasad. FCI has enough stocks of wheat and rice to meet the requirements of all states, including the additional allocation that the government has announced, he told TOI.

While most states had stocks for four to six months, if the regular 5 kg was to be supplied through PDS, it is the additional requirement that has led to the fever. In addition, several states are looking to give beneficiaries the option to extract the full 30-kg quota for three months in April. The list includes Punjab, Odisha, and MP, even when large consumers like UP, Bihar, West Bengal, and Maharashtra have chosen to meet the monthly 10kg quota (including the additional 5kg).

Staggered delivery in some states

For some states, deliveries are being staggered. Instead of providing 30kg per beneficiary in one go, FCI will provide 15kg this month and the rest in the first week of May.

The absence of passenger trains is also helping the faster movement of food trains with goods moving from Punjab to 3-4 days versus the 5-6 days freight trains typically carry. The speed with which we move fresh stocks also depends on the rate at which casualties are emptied. Most states do not have enough storage facilities, ”said an FCI official.

In the next two weeks, the focus will again be on acquisitions, which are expected to start in a phased manner in mid-April.