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Bad Situation for Punjab Cold Storage

Dr. Sangeeta Soi
Dr. Sangeeta Soi

Cold storage owners in Punjab have been paying from their pockets as they have been in loss since a year. Rahul Gupta, joint secretary of Punjab Agriculture Department says, "We have increased the share of potatoes in the meals served to schoolchildren and jail inmates in the last few months”. The reason is not to improve their dietary needs but, as Gupta explains, to solve a peculiar crisis faced by the state. Most potato farmers have abandoned their produce in cold stores for over a year now, and storage owners are paying from their pockets to dispose the old stock to make space for fresh crop, which are ready for harvest.  

A cold storage owner in Jalandhar Jaswinder Sagga told that over 1,000 potato bags are lying in his facility for around a year. Generally they get lifted by the end of November. Sagga said, “That’s also the time when farmers pay them the rental. I charge Rs 80 to 110 for keeping a bag of potatoes for a season but I know this time I would not get it”. He has recently sold the stockpile to a transporter from neighbouring Gurdaspur named Mohammad Rafi for only Rs 25 /bag.

Five trucks of discarded potato had been transported by Rafi a few weeks ago from Jalandhar to Jammu, where he sells it as fodder. “Some cold storage owners are willing to sell the stock for just Rs 10,” told Rafi. “The situation is such that we are not even able to recover the maintenance cost,” said Ajmer Singh Khalsa, owner of Khalsa cold storage, Jalandhar. He also said that most of us are now surviving on bank loans.  On average, the owner of cold storage with the capacity of 100,000 potato bags spends about Rs 60 lakh on electricity, employee’s salary, gas and other maintenance expenses. This comes to Rs 55-60 for maintaining a bag of potato for the entire season. 

Another farmer from Jalandhar told that now he is taking 50 per cent advance rental from farmers at the time of storage.  Punjab, the sixth largest producer of potato which is also famed for producing seed potato, has had bumper harvests in the years after demonetisation. According to the July 2018 report by the Centre’s Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare.  In 2016-17, the state produced 2.4 million tonnes (mt) which went up to 2.6 mt in 2017-18.

Gupta said that Punjab is looking for alternate ways like exporting potatoes and selling it to southern states.  

As per reports of Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) Punjab has “excess” cold storage capacity, yet every year the country loses Rs 50,473 crore of perishable products such as fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and milk. In a country where 40 per cent of children is malnourished, the amount is way more than what was allocated for the health budget in 2018— Rs 48,852.5 crore. 

It’s time the government should utilize technology to forecast production and share it with farmers. That could have helped Punjab farmers avoid growing bumper potato crops year after year and avert the glut in the market. 

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