India to continue wheat imports despite softened prices

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New Delhi, Nov 13 (UNI) The government today reiterated its decision of importing wheat on the plea of 'meeting any contingency', even as its price has softened in the open market and FCI is saddled with sufficient stocks.

The country has enough grain stocks of 101.21 lakh tonne of wheat and 54.89 lakh tonnes of rice against the official buffer norms of October, fixed at 110 lakh tonnes and 52 lakh tonne respectively.

The procurement of wheat by FCI, too, crossed 11 million tonnes this year with the country's production touching a record of around 76 million tonnes.

But apprehending shortage in buffer stocks, India already decided to import 5 million tonnes of wheat in March this year and so far, has taken the delivery of 2.82 lakh tonnes imported wheat at ports, Agriculture and Food Minister Sharad Pawar told the media persons at the Economic Editors' Conference here today.

Last year, India had imported 5.5 million tonnes as the shortfall was assessed at 4 million tonne at that time .

Now, the wholesale wheat rates are ruling low at Rs 1,068 a quintal comparing to over Rs 1,120 per quintal during the same period last year. And, the economic cost of procuring wheat by FCI is about Rs 250 a quintal higher than that of the prevailing wholesale prices.

The FCI will be compensated from food subsidy but in the given situation, the private players like Cargill which purchased about 20 lakh tonnes of wheat in the outgoing season, is also suffering a loss of Rs 100 or so a quintal.

Mr Pawar, however, maintained that ''We have to import as much buffer stock, which is always needed for emergency situation''.

The offtake of wheat and rice at subsidised rates from the FCI stocks for the government's various welfare schemes and Public Distribution System (PDS) is expected to be at 300 lakhs tonnes this year, as 115.49 lakh tonnes had already been allocated to states under these programmes.

Under PDS, wheat is provided to BPL category people at Rs 415 a quintal and rice at Rs 565 per quintal while the 'poorest of the poor' get these commodities at Rs 2 and Rs 3 a kg. However, the above poverty line (APL) people are also being sold these grains at Rs 610 a quintal and Rs 830 a quintal respectivley, at Fair Price Shops.

On the complaints of diversion of PDS grains to free market and also to Bangladesh from West Bengal, Mr Pawar said ''it is the state governments' job to stop this malpractice.'' He added that despite its pitfalls, there was no need to change present system of PDS for foodgrains.

Earlier, he admitted that around 36 per cent of food stocks got diverted to free market and there was a huge public hue and cry over the non-availability of stocks from Fair Price shops in West Bengal.

The Minister, however, maintained that import of pulses and edible oils would continue to keep the domestic prices under check.

He attributed the recent 80 per cent increase in edible oil prices to rise in Minimum Support Prices (MSP) of mustrad and other oil seeds.

He said that the shortfall for edible oils increasing at faster rate than the production, which he attributed to growth in population and improvement in standard of living.

The country is expected to import about 43 lakh tonnes of edible oils and the import duty has already been reduced for crude and refined palm oil from 80 per cent to 45 per cent and 90 per cent to 52.5 per cent respectively.

The sugar production in the country is estimated at 280 lakh tonnes with a carry over stocks of 119 lakh tonnes making the total availability of 399 lakh tonnes as against the domestic annual consumption of 200 lakh tonnes, throwing a net surplus of 170 lakh tonnes, Mr Pawar said.


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