Foodgrains smuggling rampant across borders

Rashi Aditi Ghosh/ZRG

From food to fodder or inter-state to international borders, Indian corruption knows no limits. In a country where a whopping 29.8 per cent of population lives below poverty line, a new scam involving siphoning off of 1769.47 metric tonnes of key foodgrains across the border to Nepal and Bangladesh has been unearthed.

According to a Home Ministry report, in 2012 (as on March 31), about 5.85 metric tonnes and 19.83 metric tonnes of key foodgrains along Indo-Bangladesh border and Indo-Nepal border were seized respectively by the Border Security Force (BSF) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB). In fact, reports of rampant cross-border smuggling of Indian food grains meant for impoverished BPL families under the PDS have come on earlier occasions as well.

It hints at, if anything, a highly organized nexus of officials, local politicians and traders. Biraj Patnaik, who recently conducted a food security study at Action Aid, a food rights NGO, stresses, “Smuggling in the listed states is all due to political support and individual benefits or else how come smuggling of key crops along borders in a country with starvation is still untapped.”

A Zee Research Group (ZRG) analysis shows that despite official claims smuggling of key crops is rampant in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand. While Bihar with 997.5 metric tonnes reported the highest quantity of smuggled food grains between 2009 and 2012, other states like Uttar Pradesh aren’t lagging far behind. The state reported 545.7 metric tonnes of smuggled foodgrains while Uttarakhand and West Bengal follow with 5.9 and 3.64 metric tonnes respectively.

Showing his concern and distress over smuggling, damage and wastage suffered by key crops Amar Jyoti Nayak, lead, Land and Livelihood Knowledge Hub, ActionAid India observed: “In a country where millions either go to bed hungry every night or barely have access to one square meal a day; the news that there could now be smuggling of foodgrains is just outrageous and reprehensible. This needs to be thoroughly investigated.”

Along with smuggling, massive procurement and lack of adequate storage facilities has also become a severe cause for concern for many states. A ZRG analysis of data clearly depicts that the procurement of wheat and rice has registered a massive increase from 33.48 per cent in 2010-11 to 58.20 per cent in 2011-2012. During the same period, loss of foodgrains due to lack of storage has increased from 0.58 lakh tonnes in 2008-09 to 1.48 lakh tonnes in 2011-12 (upto February).

Explaining the gap between procurement and storage IK Negi, general manager (quality control) at Food Corporation of India said, “We lose a lot of foodgrains due to various reasons and with such a huge volume of procurement controlling the foodgrain damage becomes tough.”

In order to resolve the crisis like situation many states are now urging Centre’s intervention. The Confederation of Northern India Roller Flour Mills Association has urged the government, to off-load the huge stocks of wheat it currently holds, through the open market sales scheme (OMSS) in the north.

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