While the government agencies have surplus wheat stocks, Indian food companies have imported 4.2 lakh tonne of the grain —mostly from Australia — so far in the current fiscal. The volume of import is expected to increase in the coming months, according to industry sources.
The imports have been carried out mainly by firms based in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the proximity to Australia. These are the biggest ever wheat imports since 2010 when the country had imported 2 lakh tonne of grain. In 2014-15, the country had imported only around 29,000 tonne of wheat.The companies which have imported wheat include Cargill India, Cape Flour Mills, Salem Food Products and CP foods, among others.
A leading flour miller from southern India attributes the increase in import of wheat to the adverse impact on the quality of grain because of unseasonal rains witnessed earlier this year in the key producing states of Punjab, Haryana and parts of Rajasthan. “Its easier and economical to move wheat from Australia to Tamil Nadu coast rather than transporting the grain by road or train from norther India,” a flour miller from Tamil Nadu said.
Export prices of Australian wheat are ruling at present, at around $260-265 per tonne, which is cheaper than locally available grain, making it attractive for flour millers in southern India.
In a bid to curb import and liquidate excess wheat stocks, the government in August had imposed 10% import duty on wheat till March 2016. The government had stated that the measure would result in of R90 crore to the government in the remaining part of the current fiscal. However, in August alone, Indian companies have imported more than 1.2 lakh tonne of wheat.
At present, state-owned Food Corporation of India (FCI) has a huge wheat stock in excess of 34.4 million tonne (MT) on September 1, of which more than 28 MT had been purchased from farmers during April-June this year under the relaxed norms. As reported earlier, a major chunk of wheat was procured this year from the farmers of Punjab and Haryana under the relaxed norms, because unseasonal rains hit the quality of produce.
By October, FCI needs 20.2 MT of wheat under buffer stocks norm, thus marking rest of quantity of wheat as ‘excess’.
FCI requires around 20 to 22 MT of wheat annually for distribution through the public distribution system (PDS). “We have around 8-10 MT of excess wheat stocks,” the official said.
The country’s wheat production is estimated to have declined to 90.78 MT in 2014-15, as against the record production of 95.85 MT during 2013-14. The domestic consumption of wheat is estimated around 78-80 MT.