Citizens' Issues
Consistently inconsistent foodgrain policy!

The Wadhwa Committee pointed out that some Rs28,000 crore subsidy annually spent by the government was pocketed by vested interests. Nothing much has been done, except to let the foodgrain rot in the poorly built warehouses!

Everyone is looking up the sky to seek the help of rain gods for the monsoon to arrive. We have repeated assurances from leaders and weather scientists that “it is due anytime now” for the crop-sowing season, and “not to worry too much”. Such vagaries of the rainfall continue to play havoc in India.
In an estimate made by the World Food Programme, almost 25% of the world’s hungry people live in India. Which means some 200 million people or one-fifth of the population are hungry and starving for food and somehow eke out a living.
If statistics are to be believed, most of them unreliable anyway, but still form a basis for facing the reality, millions of tonnes of foodgrain are lost, wasted, damaged and are unfit for human consumption due to a variety of causes.
The PDS (public distribution system) established to ameliorate the living conditions of the poor people living below the poverty line (BPL) is in shambles.  A committee appointed by the Supreme Court, headed by former SC judge, justice DP Wadhwa, described the PDS as “inefficient and corrupt”.
The report highlighted that the system was plagued by black marketing and unofficially run by a “vicious cartel of bureaucrats, fair price shop owners and middlemen”. It would be truly interesting to find out how the shop owners are given the ‘license’ to run the “ration shop” as they are popularly called. A detailed study would indicate the political nexus of the vested interests.
The report also pointed out that some Rs28,000 crore subsidy annually spent by the government was pocketed by vested interests and suggested stern action to stem the rot.  Nothing much has been done, except to let the foodgrain rot in the poorly built warehouses!
What is really happening?  In most production areas, since there are inadequate and poor storage facilities, foodgrain, packed in poor quality sacks, are kept in the open for the rodents to feast, while people starve. Rain or sunshine the grains get damaged, rot and are unfit for consumption.  Such criminal wastage goes unreported and unpunished while the poor go hungry and scavenge for food. Every year at least 20% to 30% of the foodgrain produced go waste in this manner.
According to statistics available, there some 492 warehouses in India; two-thirds of the foodgrain are kept in government’s own construction; one-sixth is kept in the open and the remaining in hired facilities. These are neither adequate nor fully suitable and weatherproof to prevent rotting and other types of damages.
Whether the godowns maintained by the FCI (Food Corporation of India) are complying with above essentials is a debateable question.
Recently there was a media and public outcry that instead of letting the foodgrain go waste in this manner, the government must give it away to the poor and the needy. A rough estimate says that one million tonnes of foodgrain would take care of ten million people for the whole year.  Petitions were made to the food minister. What happened? Nothing, as usual and somehow, the issue was lost in the maze of other political chaos.
From a bowl in hand and seeking food under the PL-480 Programme India has come a long way, to become a net exporter. But, are we taking advantage of this progress? No. Apart from letting millions starve, decisions on export are subject to whims and fancies of the government as we have consistently inconsistent policies of banning and allowing exports on the pretext of protecting the “aam aadmi”.
Overseas buyers cannot be subject to uncertainty when they have others ready and willing to offer the same products in competition. Whether it is onion to the Middle East or cotton to China, the importer needs have to be supplies in an assured manner. Our export bans also affect the shipping industry.

It is essential that the Central Warehousing Corporation, set up in 1957 and operating only 469 warehouses, with a storage capacity of some 10 million tonnes should be directed to increase or create additional capacities in production areas; modernize them and also ensure that they have good transportation facilities at their disposal for movement of goods. We need to learn and implement better management systems of control and overcome the current lethargy, inefficiency and eradicate the corrupt practices that are visible.
All these are sad state of affairs; it also makes us wonder if these facilities are covered by insurance of any kind?

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)


Expanding work into Jordan

A visit to Jordan was fruitful as the writer met many merchants there. The 56th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business

 The Indian government had a bilateral agreement with Jordan whereby rock phosphates were regularly imported from this country and we had a great number of items to sell. This Hashemite kingdom had closer relations with Britain, as King Hussain was educated there and was a student of Sandhurst Military Academy.
He was friendly but tough and would not cave in for threats. He had to deal with the Palestinian problem; because of the occupation and expansion of Israeli Zionist rule, more and more people from Palestine became refugees in their own homeland and had to be accommodated in Jordan.  
The west bank of the Jordan River was occupied by force and the displaced people had to find shelter elsewhere. It was Jordan first which had to take the influx of refugees fleeing from their homes. They were welcomed and assisted, and thousands of families stayed in make-shift camps, which, over the years had become permanent features, not only in Jordan, but in Lebanon as well.
No doubt, the Palestinians had also settled down in Syria, as they crossed the land borders, but because of the political system and Syria itself had a large unemployed population, there was not much anything these people could do for their livelihood, as a result of which, they moved to Lebanon. Shatila camp was one of the largest and it lay close to the Beirut International Airport.
Our Ambassador AK Dar was also accredited to Jordan and Cyprus; there was no office as such for the Indian consulate in Nicosia, but we had one in Amman to look after our interests.  Consular work was done there and the representative would come down to meet the ambassador once in a fortnight or so.
There were lots of enquiries from Jordanian merchants, and I decided to make a brief visit to Amman. In the few days that I stayed there, I met a number of active merchants, all of whom spoke good English. I expanded my contacts there and encouraged them to meet us in Beirut, which they frequently visited. Engineer Khalifeh Abdullah was one of the regulars, through whom Indian cast iron industry, especially Kajeco of Agra, benefited the most. Abdullah's Indian visit was after his long discussion with me; he met the EEPC officials in Calcutta and also senior people from RSI (Haik Sookias), DN Singha (Diken), Grand Smithy Works and Vijay from Kajeco in Agra. In the end, after his own trial-and-error methods, it was a lucky connection for Vijay and Abdullah that they were able to strike deals beneficial to both.
On my return, I submitted my report to the Council, and this was to become the next book, "Opportunities for Engineering Goods in Jordan", which as published in December 1973.
The visit to the island nation of Cyprus did renew several contacts with buyers there.  This small island had some inherent political problems; roughly 70% of the population was Cypriot-Greek and the balance of Turkish origin. There was a separate Turkish quarter and although there was a lot of friendliness and movement, it was always a tense situation.
The Cypriot-Greeks spoke Greek and were associated with business and government jobs/contracts. I was able to meet a number of them and introduced the opportunities for getting goods from India. But the main problem remained that there was hardly enough cargo for stopping over to deliver Indian products in Famagusta, their only developed port. Our efforts to make a break-through in Cyprus were unsuccessful.

Meantime, VP Singh our commercial attaché in Beirut was promoted to posting in Canberra, Australia; NK Nair, the commercial attaché in Baghdad was transferred to Beirut; Sharma, the successor of Ganga Lal Casewa in STC was succeeded by Kamal K Mittal and SK Singh, the ambassador from Afghanistan took over from AK Dar.  
With NK Nair's arrival, we hit off well and on his encouragement and support, my visits to Baghdad began in 1973 with frequency, as our relations with this country began to develop on a more serious note than before.

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)


RCom unit files preliminary prospectus for IPO in Singapore

RCom is looking at listing Flag Telecom through a business trust, Global Telecommunications Infrastructure Trust on Singapore Stock Exchange

New Delhi: Reliance Communications Ltd (RCom) on Thursday said it has filed a preliminary prospectus with the regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore for listing its undersea unit, Flag Telecom, in Singapore, reports PTI.

RCom is looking at listing Flag Telecom through a Singapore business trust, Global Telecommunications Infrastructure Trust (GTIT) on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore is Singapore's central bank and financial regulatory authority.

"The business trust, GTIT, has lodged a copy of the preliminary prospectus with the Monetary Authority of Singapore," RCom said in a statement.

On 12 June 2012, the Singapore Exchange Securities Trading Ltd had granted an "eligibility to list" to GTIT, subject to requisite conditions being satisfied.

The IPO is expected to raise about Rs5,000-Rs6,000 crore for the company.

RCom on 10 April 2012 announced that it was evaluating a potential IPO and listing in Singapore of its subsea telecommunications infrastructure network business.

RCom had appointed Deutsche Bank, DBS Singapore, Standard Chartered and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China as bankers to the issue.

Flag Telecom was acquired by the then undivided Reliance Group for $207 million (less than Rs1,000 crore) in 2003.

As part of the telecom portfolio of the erstwhile Reliance group, Flag Telecom later came into the fold of Anil Ambani-led group after the split between two Ambani brothers.

In recent past, RCom has been exploring various routes of raising funds, including selling stake in its telecom tower arm Reliance Infratel, a move that will help the company retire a major chunk of debt on its books.

As of 31 March 2012, the company has a net debt of Rs35,839.3 crore on its books.


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