Column : Forget disinvestment, think wheat
The government has 70 million tonnes of rice and wheat, a figure that’s more than three times the 21-million-tonne buffer stock it needs to carry. There’s the obvious question of what impact unloading these stocks would have had on dampening foodgrain prices—wheat prices rose 15% in April-October and rice 12%—had the government done the right thing, but leave that aside for the moment. Let’s focus instead on the Arundhati Roy statement on how India seems to have more food for rats than for the poor.
It is unlikely government actions could ever be so cynical, but while the government of India has 70 million tonnes of food stocks, it has only 45 million tonnes of covered storage space. Another 16-17 million tonnes comprises what is called cover and plinth, which basically means the grain is covered by plastic sheets; whether that’s enough is difficult to say. So, even by the government’s own admission, about a tenth of stocks are completely exposed to the vagaries of the weather—this is the stuff that Arundhati Roy says is left to rot or eaten by rats. As compared to the unofficial estimate of 10% of grain rotting each year, the official figure is less than 0.1%. But if this were true, why would