Amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has received approval from the National Biofuel Coordination Committee (NBCC) to allow the conversion of surplus food grain stocks into ethanol to be used as feedstock for the production of alcohol-based hand sanitizers and for blending with gasoline.
According to a statement from India’s Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (MPNG), the National Policy on Biofuels, 2018 under Para 5.3 inter-alia envisages that during an agriculture crop year when there is projected oversupply of food grains as anticipated by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, the policy will allow conversion of these surplus quantities of food grains to ethanol, based on the approval of National Biofuel Coordination Committee (NBCC).
A meeting of NBCC was held on April 20, 2020, under the Chairmanship of the Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, wherein it was approved that the surplus rice available with Food Corporation of India (FCI) may be converted to ethanol for utilization in making alcohol-based hand-sanitizers and in blending for Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme.
The announcement is controversial amid fears that the country’s estimated 800 million poor face hunger as a result of the government COVID-19 lockdown that came into force on March 24, 2020. However, in a previous statement on April 2, 2020, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution assured that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is “ensuring uninterrupted supply” of wheat and rice throughout the country during the lockdown period.
FCI says that it is fully prepared to meet not only the food grain requirement under National Food Security Act (NFSA) – 5 kg/month and beneficiary but also any additional demand including the supply of 5 kg/person for next 3 months to 813.5 million people under PM Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana 2020 (PMGKY 2020), the COVID-19 relief package scheme announced by the Union Finance Minister on March 26, 2020.
As per April 1, 2020, FCI says it has 56.4 million tonnes of food grains (30.54 million tonnes of rice and 25.86 million tonnes of wheat).
According to John Hopkins University & Medicine Coranavirus Resource Centre in Maryland, the United States (US), India, the world’s second-most populous country has (per April 20, 2020) 18 658 confirmed cases and 592 deaths attributed to COVID-19.