FCI – An analysis in times of pandemic
Food is the element, which lies at the core of human existence. Agriculture is the medium through which mankind generates the food grains which sustain human life. India being the second largest populous country in the world has a population of more than one billion people: This increases the requirement for greater food production. India is primarily an agrarian economy and thus the farmers grow surplus food grains over their requirements. These surplus food grains, which are of large quantities, have to reach people in the urban areas as well as in rural areas where there is a scarcity of good grains. This aspect of procurement of food grains and subsequent distribution to the needy people rests with Government of India. The Government has delegated this responsibility to the Food Corporation of India (FCI), a service oriented, non-profit making organization, which undertakes the procurement, storage, movement and distribution of the Food grains across the length and the breadth of India. Today as an apex organization in handling food grains. Food Corporation of India (FCI) is the most vital link between the farmers and the consumers.
The Food Corporation of India is an organisation that was established by the government of India. Regarding its nature, it is a statutory body having its jurisdiction under Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, government of India. The head of the Food Corporation of India is called ‘Chairman’. Food Corporation of India was established in the year 1965 having its initial headquarter in capital city of Tamil Nadu i.e. Chennai, though it was later on moved to New Delhi. Food Corporation of India has its regional centres in each of the capitals of the respective states of India and also centres in important areas of the state that serves as the district centres of FCI. Food Corporation of India was established through ‘Food Corporations Act, 1964’ having its first district office at Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu). Also Food Corporation of India is a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) of the Government of India. The main objective of Food Corporation of India is to offer staple grains i.e. Wheat & Rice to Government of India. The main service offered by Food Corporation of India is to help the government in executing the policy of ensuring food security for the whole of India. Primarily the duty of FCI is to undertake purchase, store, move/transport, distribute and sell food grains and other foodstuffs. Food Corporation of India coordinates its functions through a country wide network of offices having headquarters at New Delhi, with five zonal offices, twenty five regional offices and nearly 170 district offices under its control.
Objectives and operations of FCI:
From our above discussions, we have learnt that Food Corporation of India basically stores the food products mainly wheat and rice as a buffer stock that could be used by the Govt. of India in contingency and emergency situations. But it is not just as easy as far as its objectives are concerned, so in order to get a better understanding of it let us look at it in detail:
- Farmer to get reasonable prices of their production with incentives.
- To stabilize consumer prices and to prevent from fluctuation.
- Building up adequate buffer stocks for food grains. So as to meet the urgent requirement in case of natural calamities like food; drought, cyclone etc.
- Distribution of food grains throughout the country with the help of Public Distribution System (PDS).
- To help in transforming the crisis management oriented food security into a stable security system to ensure availability, accessibility and affordability of food grains to all people at all times so that no one, nowhere and at no time should go hungry.
In order to fulfil the objectives of F.C.I., massive physical effort is required which is provided by the labour force deployed at various depots. The main operations which are being carried or by the workers in Food Corporation of India are:
- Loading / unloading in trucks, railway wagons etc.
- Stacking in Godowns
- Filling of gunnies with loose grains.
- Weighing etc.
Since its inception in 1965, having handled various situations of plenty and scarcity, FCI has successfully met the challenges of managing the complex task of providing food security for the nation. A strong food security system has helped to sustain the high growth rate and maintain regular supply of wheat and rice right through the year.
Responsibilities of FCI
Food Corporation of India is an institution that is responsible for the supply of food grains all across the country be it in normal circumstances or extraordinary one and n order to do so it has to perform certain responsibilities which are accomplished by FCI within the ambit of power given to it. These responsibilities are:
- To maintain harmonious Industrial Relation between Food Corporation of India Management at various levels and the food handling labourers engaged in various depots/godown/ports for handling food grain bags for the purpose of various schemes of the Government of India.
- To make policy decisions in respect of labourers engage in various depots/godowns/ports with regard to their engagement, employment, payment etc.
- To organize meeting with various labour unions at headquarter level.
- To issue necessary instructions/directions to EDs and GMs on the agreed issues relating to food handling labourers as per MOS/MOU/Arrangements.
- To examine and decide wage revision periodically and separately for departmental DPS and NO WORK NO PAY labour system.
- To frame policies with regard to welfare amenities to be provided to the food handling labourers engaged under departmental DPS and NWNP system in various godowns throughout the country.
- To revise various incentives piece rate schemes periodically from time to time meant for departmental labourers working in various depots and ports throughout the country.
- To deal with the policy of abolition of Contract Labour System in various depots throughout the country.
- To deal with all court cases and ID cases raised by departmental, DPS and NWNP labourers working in various godowns/depots.
Apart from there are several other functions also that are performed by FCI like working in compliance with labour legislations, Industrial legislations and monitoring of working conditions etc.
FCI steps up to ensure no shortage of food grains to poor and its significance
“India will have enough food grain stockpiles to feed its poor for at least a year-and-a-half as the reserves are likely to further balloon after record harvests in the South Asian nation that has been locked down to check the spread of the covid-19 (corona virus). There will be no food shortage in the second-most populous country”, D.V. Prasad, chairman of state-run Food Corporation of India (FCI), a government agency at the heart of the world’s largest public food distribution program. India, like other countries, is trying to curb the spread of the deadly virus by locking down provinces, stopping trains, flights and bus services, while ensuring supplies of staple commodities. America’s top food firms are rushing to meet a spike in demand as panic buying sets in, while sales of items such as cereals and pasta have surged in Russia. In Australia, hoarders were shamed as the nation’s biggest supermarket chain tightened buying limits.
The Centre has asked states to lift one month’s additional food grain of 35.5 lakh tones, which will be provided to the nearly 81 crore beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act. This benefit will be made available in addition to the monthly benefit that these beneficiaries get. The Centre also allowed states to purchase fixed quantity of wheat and rice directly from FCI centres operating directly in the respective states without participating in online auction to meet the ever growing requirement of food grains in the current situation of covid-19 outbreak. All one could say is that in the times of Corona outbreak or to be correct in the times of global pandemic complete lockdown is the need of the hour. But that does not ends all the problem as during the lockdown period all business activities will be suspended that will harshly affect the daily wage labourers who earn and live on a daily basis so it is the prime responsibility of the government to ensure the sustainable life condition of those individuals and in order to do so it is important to provide them food and thus FCI has been directed by the govt. to avail all available opportunities to feed every individual. Now the question is how this decision is going to affect in long term. The simple answer to this question is that the stock that were piled up in the FCI godowns would obviously decrease and to stock that same amount would require time as farming activities and the movement of food grains from one state to another would be suspended till the countrywide lockdown remains and which is uncertain and also since this lockdown will affect economic growth also, thus it could become quite difficult for the FCI to manage the daily needs of the daily wage labourers.
In India government provides ration and food to the vulnerable sections of the society with the help of FCI by issuing them ration cards under the “Public Distribution System”. But this “Public Distribution System” is not absolutely successful as there are various challenges that need to be dealt with first. We have had problems in ensuring issue of ration cards to all families. We have had problems in avoiding leakages of food grains from ration shops of the one side, and lack-of purchasing power on the other to avail of the entitlement under the ration card. Also the quality of food that is being distributed is questionable which abstains people from purchasing it.
Structural reforms need to be introduced against the background of the changing agricultural and institutional scenario. Given these changes and the weakness and constraints under which the FCI currently operates, it may be better to phase out Government controls over grain markets as well as procurement operations. The FCI should then be allowed to compete in the market without budgetary support, free from controls, with the added advantage of economies of scale. The new role of the FCI may be to stabilize prices within a range, provide a minimum support price and maintain strategic buffer stock. Also there is a strong need for harsh penalties and punishments against the persons who try or are guilty of stock piling or denying the right holder of their stipulated amount of food which they should have been given.
To sum up, we could say that no doubt FCI is an institution that ensures that no one in India is forced to sleep hungry and this has been done by them very efficiently since its inception but at the same time there is a stringent need for the action against the wrongdoers who are acting as a mutant virus while fulfilling this objective
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