At a time when loopholes in the Public Distribution System (PDS) are depriving a large section of people of free or subsidised grains, the government on Monday allowed the conversion of surplus rice available with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to ethanol.
The decision will lead to the utilisation of part of a huge stockpile of 30.57 million tonnes (MT) of rice, as on March 10, which is almost 128 per cent more than the buffer stock and strategic requirement norms. The ethanol produced from this will be used for making alcohol-based hand-sanitizers and for blending in petrol.
The decision was taken by a group of experts under the National Biofuel Coordination Committee (NBCC), chaired by petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Monday. According to the National Policy on Biofuels, 2018, during an agriculture crop year when there is projected over supply of food grains as anticipated by the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare, the policy will allow conversion of these surplus quantities of food grains to ethanol.
At present, the government is saddled with huge rice stocks from previous years. The stocks does not include 19.23 million tonnes of unmilled paddy lying with the millers on behalf of FCI.
The 5 kg grain is over and above the regular PDS allotment. This will, according to estimates, absorb around 11 MT more rice from the Central pool.
However, many poor people are unable to benefit out of it due to loopholes in PDS network. For example, in several states, a large chunk of ration-card holders may not be eligible for the free grains, as they are not covered under the Food Security Act.
Other than this, the National Food Security Act implemented in 2013 and based on the Census of 2011, has not factored in the population increase in over nine years, leaving a large chunk of people out of the government sop.
The government had already made it clear that the disposal would be strictly monitored to allay any misconception that food stock is wasted for fuel when millions of children in the country remain malnourished. The move to use surplus rice for ethanol will address the concern of approximately 750 million litres of grain-based distillery capacities lying idle due to lack of feedstock, to some extent. Secondly, this will absorb some of the surplus rice lying with FCI, which is estimated to be several times the required quantity.
The total capacity of grain-based distilleries in the country is around 2 billion litres, of which around 38 per cent (750 million litres) is lying unused due to lack of feedstock availability.