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Big Festivals Near but Food Depots in Darchula Are Empty

KATHMANDU – Khandeshwari depot of the Food Management and Trade Company in the remote Api Himal Rural Municipality in Darchula district, is now empty. Two major Hindu festivals—Dashain and Tihar—are round the corner, but the local residents are already short of food.

Subsidised food grain, mainly rice, have not been transported to Khandeshwari depot for the past several months. Khandeshwari, the administrative centre of the rural municipality, is yet to be connected with national road networks. Api Himal is among the most food-insecure local units in Darchula, a hill district of Sudurpaschim Province. The local residents are dependent on the food depot to buy rice at subsidised rates. The acute shortage of rice in the depot ahead of the festive season has made them restless.

“We had six quintals of rice in stock until two weeks ago. It was sold out, but we have not yet received new supply,” said Narbhan Thekere, an employee at the Food Management and Trade Company in Darchula. “The chances of the depot receiving a new batch of subsidised rice before Dashain are low, because the process to select contractors for supplying rice has just started. So it will take some time.”

Last year, the Api Himal Rural Municipality had demanded a total of 4,000 quintals of subsidised rice for the Khandeshwari food depot, but the Food Management and Trade Company supplied only 1,734 quintals.

According to Thekere, the food company invited a tender to transport 1,000 quintals of rice last week and the contractor selection process has yet to start.

There are 13 food depots in Darchula district, but all except the one at Khalanga, the district headquarters, are empty. These empty food depots are either located in places without road connection or the roads have been damaged by monsoon rains.

Moreover, this year the contractors, according to officials, are reluctant to transport food grain based on the prices fixed by the government in the last fiscal year of 2022-23. The contractors say due to repeated hikes in fuel prices over the past one year, their transport costs have risen markedly.

According to Thekare, the food depot in Khalanga has a total of 593 quintals of rice now. Thekare, who is also the store keeper at the depot, informed that there is 413 quintals of mota rice (short grains) and 180 quintals of masino rice (long grains). “The depot has been selling around 25 to 30 quintals of rice a day. It means that the current stock will not last even a month,” said Thekare, adding that a tender process is underway to supply 1,900 quintals of rice to the Khalanga depot.

With major festivals approaching, many people have been visiting the food depots to buy subsidised rice. They are compelled to return home empty-handed since the depots are already out of stock.

“Dashain, one of the most important festivals of Hindus, is just a month away. I went to the depot (Khandeshwari food depot), but had to return empty-handed since they didn’t have any food grains,” said Jaman Singh Manyal of ward 4 of the rural municipality.

The shortage of subsidised rice in Api Himal and Byas rural municipalities has left both the officials and locals worried. The local residents of various wards in the local units are entirely dependent on the food depots as local production barely covers six months.

“The food grain we produce is enough for only two to three months. We somehow managed to buy subsidised food from the company’s depots. The villagers are now forced to buy rice from the local market at exorbitant prices,” bemoaned Manyal, urging that the authorities concerned should supply rice to the depot before Dashain, which falls in October this year.

According to the locals, Mota rice is sold for Rs55 per kilogram at the company’s food depot at Khandeshwari, but it costs up to Rs75 in the local market.

Besides the company’s warehouse in Khalanga, it has depots in Sunsera, Kuni, Ratamata, Ghusa, Sitola, Nagu, Khandeshwari, Paribagar, Rapla, Dumling, Mal and Byas. According to the Food Management and Trade Company in Darchula, the process to transport around 8,000 quintals of rice to various depots and outlets has begun, but it is still not clear when the rice will be transported.

Source : Asia News Network