The food ministry has relaxed the norm for wheat procured by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and state government agencies in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh by increasing the percentage of shrivelled and broken grains to 18% from the existing norm of 6%.
Earlier, the Centre had sent two teams to Punjab to assess the extent of the problem of shrivelled wheat grain procured by government agencies from farmers. Similar request for relaxation in procurement norms for shrivelled and broken grains was received from Haryana as well.
“In order to reduce hardship of farmers and to avoid distress sale of wheat, the limit of shrivelled and broken grains may be relaxed,” a communication by the food ministry to Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh stated.
Sources said that food ministry officials had visited various mandis in the Punjab to take wheat samples for ascertaining the extent of shrivelled wheat grain caused by the heatwave in the later part of the March, considered as the ripening time for the crop.
The ministry had sent a team to Punjab last month to study the extent of shrivelled grain. The team, in its report, stated that extreme heat in March and early April has increased shrivelled grain percentage to 10-20% in the state, as against 6% prescribed by the FCI.
Last month, the Punjab government urged the Centre to relax the quality norms for wheat procurement as a higher than prescribed level of shrivelled grains in the state’s current crop has led to a fall in purchases.
Government agencies have procured 18 million tonne (MT) of wheat from farmers, mostly in key growing states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, till Friday — a decline of 49% compared to the same period in the previous year.
Five agencies, including FCI, Markfed and Pungrain, have been entrusted with the wheat procurement at MSP from farmers in Punjab, where more than 9.55 MT has been purchased so far against 13.22 MT purchased a year ago. Officials said procurement in Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh have been completed.
In Haryana, 4.07 MT has been procured by agencies, while in Madhya Pradesh, more than 4.14 MT has been purchased.
In other wheat-growing states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Gujarat, the volume of grain procurement has been marginal.
Food secretary Sudhanshu Pandey recently said the lower output, coupled with private purchase from farmers by exporters, and traders holding on to the stocks would lead to a 55% year-on-year decline in wheat procurement in the 2022-23 marketing year to 19.5 MT. This means the purchases of the cereal by the government at MSP would hit a 13-year low this year.
The government has revised the estimate of wheat production in the 2021-22 crop year (July-June) to 105 MT, down from its February projection of 111.32 MT, based on reports that the early onset of summer in March has adversely impacted crop yield.