Somewhere in Punjab....

Irony can’t get bigger than this. Neither can it get more tragic. Even as drought and food scarcity loom large, India’s granary, Punjab, is losing a staggering 18 lakh metric tonnes (MT) of wheat to wastage. It’s a quantity that can feed 15 lakh families for 365 days, or the weight of entire wheat produced in Australia in a year. Mountains of wheat are rotting in the fields of Punjab, strewn across soggy land, with government agencies either unable or unwilling to move it out of the state into the mouths of the country’s hungry millions. In Khamanu, about 50 km from Chandigarh, rows of wheat bags are piled carelessly, telling a sorry tale of neglect and callousness. “There are lakhs of bags, each weighing 50 kg, which went bad as it remained out in the open for months and years together,’’ said Gurmeet Singh, a farmer. “I haven’t seen anyone covering it for two years now.’’ In Punjab, which produces a total of over 150 lakh mt of wheat, a whopping 99.92 lakh mt is stored in the open while only 30 lakh mt is covered. Agriculturists have cried themselves hoarse at the lack of government infrastructure in the country’s food basket. “Moisture is wheat’s worst enemy, both in terms of quality and value,’’ said P S Rangi, an expert from Punjab Agriculture University and consultant with North-India Farmers Commission. “That’s why most of the wheat we produce is exported to other countries and is used as cattle feed. Rains seeping into uncovered gunny bags make it unfit for human consumption. About 12% of the total wheat produced gets wasted due to poor and inadequate storage. A S Chabra, deputy general manager, FCI, Punjab region, says some moisture is permitted. “The quality of wheat remains unaffected till 14% of moisture. Attempt is being made to move the wheat out of the state at the earliest,’’ he said, even as 30 lakh more mt of grain from last year waits to be loaded into trucks. Government official Daljit Singh Bhatia, the district food and supply controller, Ropar, pleads helplessness saying the state doesn’t have the infrastructure. “One needs wooden racks to keep the water out to ensure that the wheat stays dry, ‘’ he said. But farmers like Bhupinder Singh aren’t convinced. “It kills me to see so much of food go waste,’’ the 72-year-old said. “I took a loan of Rs 2 lakh to take care of my field this year and my family sweats it off to produce wheat. It’s very sad to see it going to the insects,’’ he added, pointing at wheat grain, bereft of any cover and infested with worms. “There are rats everywhere, as fat as rabbits. They eat it even as our countrymen go hungry.

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