New Delhi, May 8 (PTI) With state-owned FCI facing shortage of jute bags, Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Friday said the government has allowed packaging of foodgrains in used gunny sacks and plastic bags during the ongoing procurement season.
Paswan said the ministry has constituted a task force to assess the situation arising out of shortage of jute bags/bales for packaging of foodgrains amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
He said the ministry has relaxed guidelines for packaging of foodgrains in used gunny bags and HDPE /PPE bags (commonly known as plastic bags) for packaging of foodgrains, especially wheat.
Paswan said the majority of the supply of jute bags comes from West Bengal.
The Food Corporation of India (FCI) is the government's nodal agency for procurement and distribution of foodgrains. The foodgrains are procured from farmers at minimum support price (MSP).
At present, the FCI is procuring wheat and paddy grown in the rabi (winter-sown) season.
Meanwhile, the government has bought 18 per cent less wheat so far in the rabi marketing season at 226.85 lakh tonnes as the procurement process started late because of lockdown.
Paswan said the procurement process is on track and assured that the government has sufficient foodgrains in buffer stock to meet the increased demand.
'As on May 8, cumulative procurement of wheat in rabi marketing season (RMS) 2020-21 is 226.85 lakh tonnes whereas corresponding procurement during RMS 2019-20 was 277.83 lakh tonnes.
'Therefore, procurement of wheat in the current season is less by 18.35 per cent than the previous season in the corresponding period,' Paswan told reporters here.
The cumulative procurement of paddy, as on May 6, in terms of rice in Kharif Marketing Season (KMS) 2019-20 is 439.02 lakh tonnes as against 398.13 lakh tonnes in the corresponding period of the previous year.
'The procurement of wheat and paddy/rice during RMS 2020-21 normally commences on April 1. But due to COVID-19 situation, most of the states could commence their procurement operations around April 15,' Paswan said In view of the prevailing unprecedented situation, the government has decided that procurement of wheat during the ensuing RMS 2020-21 and procurement of paddy/rice of rabi crop in KMS 2019-20 may be carried out on provisional basis, while keeping the target same as previous year.
States have been advised to ensure that the procurement operations take place in a staggered manner to maintain social distancing. Token system could be used for this purpose.
The number of procurement centres could also be increased to the extent possible.
Paswan said the government is making efforts to ensure that foodgrains are readily available for distribution in all the states for meeting their requirements under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY).
Under this scheme, 5 kg foodgrains are being distributed per month free of cost to about 80 crore beneficiaries across the country. Free grains will be supplied for three months (April-June).
Paswan said the FCI has already loaded a total number of 2,641 rakes (including wheat and rice) towards this end and the approximately quantity loaded is 73.95 lakh tonnes (55.38 lakh tonnes rice and 18.57 lakh tonnes wheat).
He informed that 21 states/union territories (UTs) have completed more than 90 per cent distribution for the month of April under PMGKAY covering nearly 41.35 crore beneficiaries.
Some States/UTs namely, Andaman Nicobar Island; Dadra and Nagar Haveli; Daman and Diu; Madhya Pradesh; Odisha; Puducherry; Himachal Pradesh, etc are distributing foodgrains for two months in one go under the PMGKAY. PTI MJH MKJ