The functioning of the state food and civil supplies department has come to a standstill with the ongoing strike by the across-the-ranks staff and officers entering the sixth day on Monday, so much so that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has pressed the panic button, asking the state to resolve the matter.
The indefinite strike has adversely impacted lifting of the freshly procured paddy crop, which is in the last leg, and the movement of food grains (wheat and rice) from the state to consumer states.
FCI chairman-cum-managing director Ashok Kumar K Meena on Monday took up the matter with the top government officials, asking them to make efforts to end the strike at the earliest.
“It is a serious matter. Not only are the FCI and the consumer states at the receiving end, Punjab also has to bear heavy losses. A stop on the movement of grains from the state means stop in payments and once the time frame for cash credit limit drawn (by the state) ends, the state will have to bear interest,” said Meena.
FCI wrote to dept’s principal secy last week too
“As you are aware that the state of Punjab is the highest contributor of rice and wheat in the central pool and non-loading of food grains due to the strike will adversely affect the timely availability of sufficient food grains in the consuming regions and it may lead to disruption of supply under NFSA and PMGKY,” reads a last week’s communication, addressed to department’s principal secretary Rahul Bhandari by Hemant Kumar Jain, general manager for FCI in Punjab – the central agency that drives food grains across the nation for public distribution.
The communication adds that this strike may adversely affect squaring up the cash credit limit account of last year’s rabi (wheat) marketing season of Punjab, as wheat liquidation of crop year 2021-22 has to be completed before the end of December 2022. “Further, the strike may also result into delay in acceptance of custom milled rice (CMR) by FCI and payment of the state government,” adds the communique.
Strike underway since Nov 23
Subsequent to the arrest of two district food and supplies controllers (DFSCs) on November 23 in connection with the ₹2,000-crore food grain transportation scam, the department’s staff – from the level of clerks to inspectors, assistant food and supplies officers, DFSCs and field deputy directors across the state – announced to move on an indefinite strike the same day.
The two officers – Sukhwinder Singh Gill and Harveen Kaur – who in the past were posted at Ludhiana, the home district of former food and civil supplies minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu during the Congress party regime, are accused of irregularities in the tenders for movement of food grains. The Vigilance Bureau has already presented a charge sheet against Ashu, who remains in judicial custody.
The strike call was given by Punjab Procuring Agencies Joint Co-ordination Committee, which has state’s procurement agencies – Markfed, Pungrain, Punsup and State Ware Housing Corporation as members.
The joint committee has asked FCI to stop placement of indents for loading of food grain specials (goods trains) from the state. The coordination committee has demanded withdrawal of the cases against the food department officers and that the officer concerned be informed before initiating action based on anonymous complaints.
FCI has asked the department to resolve the matter and issue instructions to the field staff to ensure smooth loading of rakes, so that wheat can be liquidated and sufficient stocks can be moved to the consumer states.
On being contacted, Bhandari accepted that the department’s functioning had suffered and said efforts were being made to resolve the matter at the earliest.
80,000-tonne grains were being moved daily before strike
Before the strike started last week, at least 75,000 to 80,000 tonnes of wheat and rice stocks were being moved out of the state to consumer states on a daily basis, in about 30 to 35 goods trains. The department staff play a key role in loading of food grains. Currently, the state has 25 lakh tonnes wheat and 35 lakh tonnes rice stored in its godowns.