People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 31, 2006
Wheat Imports: CPI(M) MP Seeks Clarifications
IN a letter written to the consumer affairs, food and public distribution minister Sharad Pawar on December 1, Brinda Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and MP, sought clarifications from the minister on some issues related to wheat import. Her starred question no. 142 was listed in the Rajya Sabha for the day but could not be taken up due to the adjournment of the house.
One of the issues on which clarification was sought was on the state-wise allocation of the imported wheat. The understanding given to parliament earlier was that the wheat being imported into the southern Indian ports was for those very states, because of the cost-benefit factor. But the list shows that 1.26 lakh tonnes or approximately one-third of the 3.75 lakh tonnes of wheat imported into Chennai were allocated to non-southern states. Again, approximately 2 lakh tonnes or two-third of the 2.77 lakh tonnes of wheat imported into Vishakhapatnam were allocated to non-southern states.
The latter also sought clarification on the price of the imported wheat, including the price differentials from the first tender to the fifth tender, as compared to the cost of domestic wheat. The letter recalled the information given by the minister in the house on May 12, 2006 --- that the price of imported wheat was 178.75 dollars per metric tonne. Then the minister had also stated that the transportation cost from Haryana and Punjab to southern states was, on an average, Rs 144 per quintal. Recent reports indicate that the cost of imported wheat in the later tenders ranged from 220 dollars to 238 dollars per tonne. The list of allocations also shows that the wheat was being sent to many more states. So the costs will be quite different.
Brinda Karatís letter also pointed out that the latest figures for allocation of wheat for the public distribution system (PDS), on an all-India basis, show a huge decrease from the last year --- from around 24 lakh tonnes in November 2005 to just 8.9 lakh tonnes in November 2006. This indicates that the earlier statement made in the house that consumers would benefit from wheat imports was not entirely correct since the wheat allocation has come down drastically.
The second part of the said starred question related to quality specifications of the imported wheat, and the member wanted to know what were the pressing reasons for the government to disregard the opposition of the ICARís Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR) against amending the schedule VI of the Plant Quarantine (Regulation of Import into India) Order 2003 to permit presence of two pathogens in the tender specifications for imported wheat. The earlier tender, floated in February 2006, had specified that the wheat should be free from these two pathogens, namely ergot and dwarf bunt. But what made the government change its stand in this regard? It may be noted that several references to the DWR from the ministry met with the same reply --- that it would be harmful, as it would pose a threat of alien fungi on the domestic wheat-breeding programme. Karat wanted to know: Is it true that US representatives and/or those of other countries have been representing the case for removal of such specifications?