With nearly 12.4 million tonnes of wheat already procured in Punjab - the highest procurement in the last few decades - the Punjab government and its agencies are wondering where to store the foodgrain. The target for wheat procurement this year was set at 11 million tonnes.
Similar anxieties exist in the neighboring state of Haryana, where the procurement is nearing 8.5 million tonnes against the target of seven million tonnes.
With the monsoon likely to hit the region in late June, officials are concerned that old and new foodgrain stocks might be exposed to rain and thousands of tonnes could end up rotting.
Punjab, which has just 1.54 percent of the country's geographical area, alone supplies to the national food grain kitty over 60 percent of the wheat and rice.
"On April 1, when wheat procurement began officially, the opening stock of foodgrain in Punjab was 6.8 million tonnes. This was much more than the stocks on 5.1 million tonnes recorded in April last year. This was owing to the slow movement of foodgrain from Punjab in (2011-12)," a senior officer of the Food and Supplies Department told IANS.
In the past year, over two million tonnes of foodgrain was stored in an unscientific manner and exposed to the weather. Unlike wheat, rice stocks cannot be stored in the open.
This year, officials say, 3-3.5 million tonnes of wheat could be stored in an unscientific manner.
"This is our worst-ever storage nightmare. The central government has to intervene immediately and move the earlier stocks of wheat and rice out of Punjab. Otherwise, the newly procured wheat will also start rotting," the officer said.
"The procurement this year has exceeded our target (of 11 million tonnes). Though we have made arrangements, like gunny bags, and are creating additional storage space, the storage problem is a big challenge due to the bumper crop," Punjab's Food and Supplies Minister Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon said.
Punjab has a storage capacity of over 20 million tonnes. Out of this, there is capacity for 10 million tonnes under covered space while the rest is stored on brick plinths and covered with plastic tarpaulin.
"Wheat is rotting at a number of places in Punjab and Haryana. It is an irony that in this country, many people go hungry every day and some die of hunger, but we are not even doing anything to save the available food. The hard efforts of our farmers are wasted," Shamsher Singh, an agriculturist from Patiala, told IANS.
In the last five years, nearly 97,000 tonnes of wheat rotted in Punjab alone.
"We had a stock of nearly 5.5 million tonnes of foodgrain when procurement started this year (April 1). With this year's bumper crop, we are heading for challenging times to create storage space," Haryana Food and Supplies Minister Mahender Pratap Singh said.
Haryana is likely to procure over 8.5 million tonnes of wheat, the highest-ever procurement since the state was born on November 1, 1966.
The Punjab and Haryana governments have been asking the Centre to drastically increase storage capacity in both the states. However, a huge shortfall in storage capacity continues.