As Migrants Starved to Death, 65 Lakh Tonnes of Food Grains Went to Waste in Godowns Across India

Social Commentary

As Migrants Starved to Death, 65 Lakh Tonnes of Food Grains Went to Waste in Godowns Across India

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown that was imposed in response, has led to reports of starvation among economically vulnerable sections, especially the large number of daily wage labourers were left with no scope for employment.

But in the period from January 1 to May 1, according to a report, the government has also let over 65 lakh tonnes of food go to waste in godowns across the country.

In the last four months, the report says, the stock of rice and wheat that was not issuable, and included partially spoilt and damaged grain, increased from 7.2 lakh tonnes to 71.8 lakh tonnes — a figure that’s larger than the one distributed to the needy under the PM’s Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana during the two months of the pandemic.

A few days ago, meanwhile, India Today showed us exactly what the report was pointing to, when it carried an exclusive saying tonnes of wheat were rotting out in the open at a government warehouse in Jind district of Haryana. The wheat, the reporters found, was black and unfit for human consumption.

The man in charge of the godown was quoted as saying the stock was kept for the Food Corporation of India. But a large part of it was damaged because the godowns were full, and the excess stock had to be kept in the open.

Earlier the Centre had announced that some of this surplus food grain would go into making ethanol for hand sanitiser, drawing sharp criticism online.

This year, the food grain stock was at an all-time high, with the government saying the food grain stock was three times the minimum operational strategic reserve.

In April, the economist John Dreze wrote in The Indian Express that this excess stock must find its way to the poor, who have had to bear the worst of the lockdown. He argues that unlocking the godowns was more important than the cash transfers proposed by the Finance Minister in the 20 lakh crore special package.

The economist, along with the report mentioned above, argue that the government should ignore if the fiscal deficit goes a notch higher in the process, with the economist even calling it a product of “muddled accounting”.

Now with tonnes of grain rotting, whether the food will actually reach the stomachs of those who need it the most, remains to be seen. But the general consensus seems to be that in a country that has enough grain to last a whole year, no one should have to go hungry.