Government of India (GoI) set up a High Level Committee (HLC) to suggest restructuring or unbundling of FCI with a view to improve its operational efficiency and financial management.
GoI also asked HLC to suggest measures for:
• Overall improvement in management of foodgrains by FCI;
• To suggest reorienting the role and functions of FCI in MSP operations, storage and distribution of food grains and food security systems of the country; and
• To suggest cost effective models for storage and movement of grains and integration of supply chain of food grains in the country.
Major Recommendations of HLC:
Below is a summary of major recommendations of HLC:
• On procurement related issues
a) HLC recommends that FCI hand over all procurement operations of wheat, paddy and rice to states that have gained sufficient experience in this regard and have created reasonable infrastructure for procurement. These states are Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Punjab (in alphabetical order).
FCI will accept only the surplus (after deducting the needs of the states under NFSA) from these state governments (not millers) to be moved to deficit states. FCI should move on to help those states where farmers suffer from distress sales at prices much below MSP, and which are dominated by small holdings, like Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam etc. This is the belt from where second green revolution is expected, and where FCI needs to be pro-active, mobilizing state and other agencies to provide benefits of MSP and procurement to larger number of farmers, especially small and marginal ones.
b) DFPD/FCI at the Centre should enter into an agreement with states before every procurement season regarding costing norms and basic rules for procurement. Three issues are critical to be streamlined to bring rationality in procurement operations and bringing back private sector in competition with state agencies in grain procurement.
• Centre should make it clear to states that in case of any bonus being given by them on top of MSP, Centre will not accept grains under the central pool beyond the quantity needed by the state for its own PDS and OWS.
• The statutory levies including commissions, which vary from less than 2 percent in Gujarat and West Bengal to 14.5 percent in Punjab, need to be brought down uniformly to 3 percent, or at most 4 percent of MSP, and this should be included in MSP itself (states losing revenue due to this rationalization of levies can be compensated through a diversification package for the next 3-5 years).
• Quality checks in procurement have to be adhered to, and anything below the specified quality will not be acceptable under central pool. Quality checks can be done either by FCI and/or any third party accredited agency in a transparent manner with the help of mechanized processes of quality checking.
c) Negotiable warehouse receipt system (NWRs) should be taken up on priority and scaled up quickly. Under this system, farmers can deposit their produce to the registered warehouses, and get say 80 percent advance from banks against their produce valued at MSP. They can sell later when they feel prices are good for them. This will bring back the private sector, reduce massively the costs of storage to the government, and be more compatible with a market economy.
d) GoI needs to revisit its MSP policy. Currently, MSPs are announced for 23 commodities, but effectively price support operates primarily in wheat and rice and that too in selected states. This creates highly skewed incentive structures in favour of wheat and rice. While country is short of pulses and oilseeds (edible oils), their prices often go below MSP without any effective price support. Further, trade policy works independently of MSP policy, and many a times, imports of pulses come at prices much below their MSP. This hampers diversification.
HLC recommends that pulses and oilseeds deserve priority and GoI must provide better price support operations for them, and dovetail their MSP policy with trade policy so that their landed costs are not below their MSP.
• On PDS and NFSA related issues
a) HLC recommends that GoI has a second look at NFSA, its commitments and implementation. Given that leakages in PDS range from 40 to 50 percent, and in some states go as high as 60 to 70 percent, GoI should defer implementation of NFSA in states that have not done end to end computerization; have not put the list of beneficiaries online for anyone to verify, and have not set up vigilance committees to check pilferage from PDS.
b) HLC also recommends to have a relook at the current coverage of 67 percent of population; priority households getting only 5 kgs/person as allocation; and central issue prices being frozen for three years at Rs 3/2/1/kg for rice/wheat/coarse cereals respectively. HLC’s examination of these issue reveals that 67 percent coverage of population is on much higher side, and should be brought down to around 40 percent, which will comfortably cover BPL families and some even above that; 5 kg grain per person to priority households is actually making BPL households worse off, who used to get 7 kg/person under the TPDS.
So, HLC recommends that they be given 7 kg/person. On central issue prices, HLC recommends while Antyodya households can be given grains at Rs 3/2/1/kg for the time being, but pricing for priority households must be linked to MSP, say 50 percent of MSP. Else, HLC feels that this NFSA will put undue financial burden on the exchequer, and investments in agriculture and food space may suffer. HLC would recommend greater investments in agriculture in stabilizing production and building efficient value chains to help the poor as well as farmers.
c) HLC recommends that targeted beneficiaries under NFSA or TPDS are given 6 months ration immediately after the procurement season ends. This will save the consumers from various hassles of monthly arrivals at FPS and also save on the storage costs of agencies. Consumers can be given well designed bins at highly subsidized rates to keep the rations safely in their homes.
d) HLC recommends gradual introduction of cash transfers in PDS, starting with large cities with more than 1 million population; extending it to grain surplus states, and then giving option to deficit states to opt for cash or physical grain distribution. This will be much more cost effective way to help the poor, without much distortion in the production basket, and in line with best international practices.
HLC’s calculations reveal that it can save the exchequer more than Rs 30,000 crores annually, and still giving better deal to consumers. Cash transfers can be indexed with overall price level to protect the amount of real income transfers, given in the name of lady of the house, and routed through Prime Minister’s Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and dovetailing Aadhaar and Unique Identification (UID) number. This will empower the consumers, plug high leakages in PDS, save resources, and it can be rolled out over the next 2-3 years.
• On stocking and movement related issues
a) HLC recommends that FCI should outsource its stocking operations to various agencies such as Central Warehousing Corporation, State Warehousing Corporation, Private Sector under Private Entrepreneur Guarantee (PEG) scheme, and even state governments that are building silos through private sector on state lands (as in Madhya Pradesh). It should be done on competitive bidding basis, inviting various stakeholders and creating competition to bring down costs of storage.
b) India needs more bulk handling facilities than it currently has. Many of FCI’s old conventional storages that have existed for long number of years can be converted to silos with the help of private sector and other stocking agencies. Better mechanization is needed in all silos as well as conventional storages.
c) Covered and plinth (CAP) storage should be gradually phased out with no grain stocks remaining in CAP for more than 3 months. Silo bag technology and conventional storages where ever possible should replace CAP.
d) Movement of grains needs to be gradually containerized which will help reduce transit losses, and have faster turn-around-time by having more mechanized facilities at railway sidings.
• On Buffer Stocking Operations and Liquidation Policy
One of the key challenges for FCI has been to carry buffer stocks way in excess of buffer stocking norms. During the last five years, on an average, buffer stocks with FCI have been more than double the buffer stocking norms costing the nation thousands of crores of rupees loss without any worthwhile purpose being served.
The underlying reasons for this situation are many, starting with export bans to open ended procurement with distortions (through bonuses and high statutory levies), but the key factor is that there is no pro-active liquidation policy.
• On Labour Related Issues
a) FCI engages large number of workers (loaders) to get the job of loading/unloading done smoothly and in time. Currently there are roughly 16,000 departmental workers, about 26,000 workers that operate under Direct Payment System (DPS), some under no work no pay, and about one lakh contract workers.
HLC recommends that the condition of contract labour, which works the hardest and are the largest in number, should be improved by giving them better facilities.
• On direct subsidy to farmers
a) Since the whole system of food management operates within the ambit of providing food security at a national as well as at household level, it must be realized that farmers need due incentives to raise productivity and overall food production in the country.
Most of the OECD countries as well as large emerging economies do support their farmers. India also gives large subsidy on fertilizers (more than Rs 72,000 crores in budget of FY 2015 plus pending bills of about Rs 30,000-35,000 crores). Urea prices are administered at a very low level compared to prices of DAP and MOP, creating highly imbalanced use of N, P and K. HLC recommends that farmers be given direct cash subsidy (of about Rs 7000/ha) and fertilizer sector can then be deregulated. This would help plug diversion of urea to non-agricultural uses as well as to neighbouring countries, and help raise the efficiency of fertilizer use.
It may be noted that this type of direct cash subsidy to farmers will go a long way to help those who take loans from money lenders at exorbitant interest rates to buy fertilizers or other inputs, thus relieving some distress in the agrarian sector.
• On end to end computerization
a) HLC recommends total end to end computerization of the entire food management system, starting from procurement from farmers, to stocking, movement and finally distribution through TPDS.
• On the new face of FCI
a) The new face of FCI will be akin to an agency for innovations in Food Management System with a primary focus to create competition in every segment of food grain supply chain, from procurement to stocking to movement and finally distribution in TPDS, so that overall costs of the system are substantially reduced, leakages plugged, and it serves larger number of farmers and consumers.