One of the Union government’s most talked about flagship schemes was the Mega Food Park Scheme implemented by the Ministry of Food Processing Industries. These food parks aim at providing a mechanism to link agricultural production to the market by bringing together farmers, processors and retailers so as to ensure maximizing value addition, minimizing wastage, increasing farmers income and creating employment opportunities, particularly in the rural sector. Under this scheme, the Union government offers financial assistance up to 75 per cent of the total project cost (maximum Rs 50 crore) to private players, subject to fulfilling certain guidelines.
While the scheme has been discontinued by the Government from April 1, 2021 with provision for committed liabilities for ongoing projects only, an India Today NE on-ground investigation found that works on three already sanctioned parks in the North-east region exist only on paper. On January 31, 2023, the Central government submitted a report on the implementation status of the 41 mega food parks sanctioned across India. The report says Rs 219.57 crore has already been released to seven North-eastern Mega food park projects from an approved grant of Rs 331.54 crore. Three of these parks are already in operation in Assam, Mizoram, and Tripura.
While no fund has been released for the food park in Meghalaya, sanctioned in 2021, the ones approved in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur say a different story. According to the guidelines, these projects need to get implemented within 30 months. When the India Today NE team visited the locations of these three projects in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, in the last week of April 2023, none of these was anywhere near completion even though their deadlines expired in 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Out of the Rs 50 crore sanctioned for the Food park of Nagaland, Rs 38.78 crore was released in 2017. The guidelines for a Mega Food Park scheme state that an entity taking up the project must enable basic infrastructure including drainage, water supply, electricity supply with captive power plant and sewage treatment. Other non-core infrastructures should include administrative buildings, training centres, display/trade centres, workers’ hostels, and marketing support systems. There was no sign of any of these, even after the deadline for setting up the park expired.
“It is under implementation. The main obstacle behind this delay was Covid-19,” says Doshehe Sema, owner of the Nagaland Food Park and a former minister, who is now a member of the BJP. The manager of the food park Titu Basak claims that all the funds that were released by the government of India have been utilized and all machineries have been installed but trial runs are yet to take place. “Numerous factors, including Covid-19 and floods in 2018 and 2019 caused delay. Civil engineering projects were impeded by the flood situation,” he told India Today NE.
He, however, failed to produce any evidence substantiating the claims of installation of all the machineries. While the park was supposed to be completed by February 2020, even before Covid-19 struck the world, on-ground visits found 10 odd units being built, with a few machines, in a large area near Doshehe village in Bamunpukhuri 1 (Chümoukedima block), Dimapur. “As the project is still in the implementation phase, we cannot permit any outside visitors. Once it is operational, anyone may visit the park,” says Basak.
A similar thing happened in Arunachal Pradesh, where Rs 12.02 crore of the sanctioned budget of Rs 43.25 crore was released in 2019.
Even after the expiry of the deadline, only one concrete structure, along with a boundary wall and a main gate is visible at the site. Apart from Covid-19, Likha Maj, the owner of Arunachal's Mega Park, blames the state government for the delay. “The primary responsibility of the state government was to provide basic facilities such as land, connectivity such as approach roads, power supply and water supply, and external boundary. The state government delayed in fulfilling its commitment,” Likha Maj told India Today NE.
On being asked about the utilisation of the fund, he said that it was used for internal land development of 50 acres. “Now that the state government has agreed to fulfill its commitments, which will take another three to four months to complete, we will be able to complete the core processing unit after that,” he adds.
In Manipur, Rs 7.49 crore from the approved budget of Rs 43.45 crore was released in January 2020. India Today NE ground visit found a small room and a boundary wall at the site. Joel, the managing director of Manipur Food Park also blamed Covid-19 for the delay. “Under the food park, there are two components, one is the central processing unit and the other eight other primary processing centres. The majority of the PPC has been completed, but we are still dealing with land issues in Noney. Work on the central processing unit did not begin until 2021,” Joel told India Today NE.
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