It is concerning that the government has made very little headway in procuring Boro paddy and rice over the past month, even though it fixed its highest ever paddy procurement target this year—double that of last year's Boro paddy purchase. According to reports, the Directorate General of Food (DGF) has managed to purchase only 7,750 tonnes of Boro paddy from farmers—less than one percent of the target of 800,000 tonnes—since the drive began on April 26. Additionally, the food office has procured six percent of the targeted 10 lakh tonnes of parboiled rice from millers after the drive was launched on May 7.
These numbers paint a very bleak picture at a time when it's more crucial than ever to ensure adequate public food stock for distribution to low-income, poor and vulnerable groups, who are on the verge of starvation owing to the unprecedented assault on livelihoods brought about by Covid-19. According to data from the food ministry, on June 3, the food stock at the state godowns dropped by 16 percent from the same day a year ago, while the stock of staple food rice declined by 29 percent. This stock will diminish at an alarming rate as more food-based safety net operations are rolled out in the coming months.
We had earlier warned the government to pay heed to calls for reforms in its procurement system, including easing the current regulation on moisture content of freshly-cut paddy. Unfortunately, those warnings seem to have fallen on deaf ears of the DGF, who are now citing the high moisture content of paddy as a justification for the slow procurement rate. We urge them, once again, to remove the barriers in rice procurement and do the needful to reach its desired target by the end of August. The DGF should not need a reminder that this is a particularly critical year for the country and that its efficiency (or lack thereof) can be the difference between food security and famine. It simply cannot afford to continue at its sluggish pace.