India’s much publicized Act East Policy has gone for a toss as powerful “procurement lobby” has put up strong hurdles to friendly neighbour Myanmar’s wish to export 3 million tonnes of rice to India through Manipur and Mizoram.
A strong “procurement lobby” always remained as stumbled block in the bid to procure rice and pulses from neighbouring countries, especially Myanmar. As a result, the Food Corporation of India has to procure rice and pulses for the northeast India states from far-flung states like Punjab and Haryana.
Myanmar President Htin Kyaw recently said the country could export 3 million tonnes rice this financial year and it would be a record high over 70 years. Surprisingly, there is apparently no enthusiasm in the northeast India states to import some of Myanmar’s fine quality rice.
The Food Corporation of India procures most of the rice from Punjab and other northern states and spends crores of rupees to the remote states like Mizoram and Manipur. Both the states share long border with Myanmar, and have two important land customs stations at Moreh and Champhai.
Procuring rice from Punjab or Chhatisgarh to Assam and other NE states becomes costly due to handling and freight charges. Moreover, rice has its shelf life. There are numerous instances when the procured rice got damaged in warehouses and during the transshipment. Instead, procuring rice from Myanmar will reduce the cost and loss to the FCI.
Interestingly, a strong North Indian lobby has always put hurdles in this regard. The lobby has in fact scuttled the bid for procuring rice from Myanmar in 2014 when the Indian government had decided to import one lakh tonnes of rice from Myanmar to avoid supply crisis in Manipur and Mizoram as the construction work was going on the railway line connecting these two north-eastern states.
On November 5, 2014, the State Trading Corporation of India Ltd, New Delhi, invited sealed bids (TENDER NO: STC/AC/RICE/IMP/02/2014-15 ) from overseas suppliers for import of 20,000 MTS of rice to be delivered at Moreh Land Custom Station in Manipur in two tranches. STC undertakes import of rice and pulses under various schemes of the Government of India as announced from time to time for supply to state governments and sales in the open market also imports on commercial account.
The bids were invited from prospective overseas suppliers of rice for delivery of 10,000 MTS during December 20, 2014 to January 25, 2015 and another 10,000 MTs during February 1, 2015 to February 28, 2015 at Moreh Land Custom Station in Manipur.
In 2014, the government decided to import rice as the conversion work from meter gauge to broad gauge railway line between Lumding and Silchar in Assam was going on. This route connects Manipur and Mizoram to the rest of the country.
However, under pressure from the powerful “procurement lobby”, the tender process was scrapped.