Bajura folk despair as rice depots empty ahead of festivalsThe Food Management and Trading Company points to a delay in appointing a transport contractor as the cause.
As the major festivals Dashain, Tihar and Chhath draw near, the Food Management and Trading Company (FMTC) has started selling rice at subsidised prices from its 48 depots in 42 districts.
This initiative has been highly effective in areas with access to roads, especially in the Tarai, but in the remote hill districts of Sudurpaschim, where food shortage is chronic, FMTC depots are mostly empty even ahead of the festivals.
In the remote Bajura district, the Kolti depot in Budhinanda Municipality, Kabadi food distribution centre in Himali Rural Municipality, Muktikot distribution centre in Swamikartik Khapar Rural Municipality, and even the Martadi distribution centre at the district headquarters remain closed after FMTC could not transport rice there.
According to the FMTC, they had planned to sell rice at a discounted price from September 8 until November 19 and also put up banners at all the depots in Bajura. But on September 25, most of the depots in the district were closed citing disruption in supply.
Bir Bahadur Rokaya, a resident from Budhinanda Municipality, went to buy rice from the Kolti depot, but returned empty-handed and was forced to buy rice from the market at a higher price.
Rokaya said that the depot used to sell rice at Rs56 per kilogram, but since it is now closed, he had to pay Rs70 per kg for the same variety of rice at the local market.
“I was thrilled after the FMTC announced that they would sell subsidised rice and there would be no shortage during the festival. But now their recent decision has left many people like me with limited financial means in despair,” said Rokaya. “Rice shortages are not new to us, but we never expected to encounter shortages during the festival season.”
According to Bhim Bahadur Budha, head of the Kolti depot, they had to close the depot after the FMTC failed to supply rice from the district headquarters.
“Due to the closure of the depot, the locals in the vicinity have become anxious. They keep visiting us and ask when will rice arrive, but we don’t have an answer. After all the announcements and putting up banners saying there will be no shortage, we now feel bad for disappointing the locals,” said Budha.
Mekhraj Ojha, head of the Martadi branch of the FMTC, said rice is transported to Bajura from Dhangadhi in Kailali district, but so far no consignment has arrived for the festival season.
“Currently, we only have a small amount of a pricier variety of rice in stock and it costs Rs92 per kilo. The poor cannot afford it. The locals mainly buy Aruwa rice, which costs Rs54 per kg. Due to the shortage, people are buying the same rice at the local market by paying Rs60-70 per kilo,” said Ojha.
At least 20 to 30 people have been visiting the Martadi distribution centre daily to buy rice, but they return empty-handed.
Kalpana Bista, the accounting officer at the provincial office of the FMTC, said they have not been able to send rice to many remote depots due to the delay appointing a transport contractor.
“We are trying our best to sign an agreement with a transport company for a swift delivery of rice to the depots and distribution centres in Bajura as soon as possible to ensure that there won’t be a shortage during Dashain and Tihar,” said Bista.
Bir Bahadur Thapa, a resident of Badimalika Municipality, said that a couple of days ago, he went to Martadi to buy rice after learning about the discount, but returned empty-handed as even the discounted variety was expensive and he didn’t have enough money.
“Now the poor like us are forced to buy rice from the market at higher prices. With Ghatasthapana [first day of Dashain] just three days away and relatives beginning to visit everyone’s homes, it’s becoming more challenging for us as there is very little food. What are we going to offer to our guests?”
Except for the expensive rice at the Martadi depot, all other distribution centres in the district are empty.
According to the FMTC, in the fiscal year 2022-2023, around 9,000 quintals of Aruwa rice was sold in Martadi, 8,000 in Kolti, 3,000 in Kabadi, and 500 in Muktikot of the district.