Government to ensure food availability, prices may stay high: Pawar

The overall availability of essential commodities in India has generally been satisfactory although there has been a spurt in the prices of food articles in the country, food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said. The inflation in food articles is a matter of concern and the government has taken several steps to arrest the increase in prices of these commodities, he added.

He said the government's main concern is to ensure the availability of foodgrains for the public distribution system so that the impact of inflation on the common man is minimised.   Towards this, he said, the increase in foodgrains production has been matched by increased procurement for the central pool. 

Wheat procurement rose to 25.38 million tonnes in 2009-10 from 22.69 million tonnes in 2008-09, he said, adding that the record procurement during the last two years have helped the central pool stock of wheat to touch 28.46 million tonnes.  Similarly, there was record procurement of 28.50 million tonnes and 33.31 million tonnes of rice in 2007-08 and 2008-09 respectively.

"In 2009-10 we expect to procure 26 million tonnes of rice.  As of 29 October 2009, the procurement of rice was 7.70 million tonnes compared with 7.53 million tonnes on the same date last year," he said, adding that the government has a stock 15.35 million tonnes of rice in the central pool as of 1 October 2009.  "We expect that we will be able to fully meet the demand of the public distribution system and other welfare schemes," he said.

Pawar said the government has taken a number of other steps as well to improve domestic availability of essential commodities and moderate inflation, such as:

  • Making available 1 million tonnes of wheat and 0.5 million tonnes of rice to various states under the open market sale scheme. Under this scheme, state governments will be given wheat by FCI at MSP plus freight charges; 
  • Reducing/waiving import duties for rice, wheat, pulses, edible oils, sugar, maize and refined/hydrogenated oils and vegetable oils; 
  • Allowing import of raw/white/refined sugar at zero duty without levy obligation;
  • Banning export of edible oils and pulses; 
  • Imposing stock limits; 
  • Distributing 1 million tonne of  imported edible oils to states/UTs at a subsidy of Rs15 per kg;
  • Provision of fair and remunerative price (FRP) of sugarcane across the country to provide reasonable margin to farmers on account of risk and profit; 
  • Permitting public sector undertakings to import and sell pulses under a scheme in which losses would be reimbursed by the government; 
  • Distributing imported pulses to state governments for supply through PDS at a subsidy of Rs10 per kg; 
  • Releasing adequate quantities of non-levy sugar and increasing levy sugar percentage from 10 per cent to 20 per cent; and
  • Banning futures trade in some essential commodities.

He said the offtake of foodgrains under the targeted public distribution system has increased from 33.3 million tonnes in 2007-08 to 34.6 million tonnes in 2008-09, adding that the targeted safety nets have been strengthened to ensure household food security through additional allocations of foodgrains to states.