In a state desperate to encourage its farmers to diversify and come out of the wheat and paddy cycle, the handling of the maize diversification drive has raised many eyebrows.
In its hurry to launch the drive, the government ensured that its premier seed-research and extension agency, the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) was kept out of the process, as it did not have the required stock of seed.
The government bought its maize seeds for supply to the farmers from seven private companies. These companies have got a head start and are likely to occupy a significant market share next year too.
The maize diversification project has been started in Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Patiala, Ludhiana, Moga, Bathinda, Sangrur, Rupnagar and SAS Nagar and planned to increase total area under the crop from 1.29 lakh hectares to 1.70 lakh hectares. Only half of the target has been achieved.
Private companies have been paid Rs. 1,400-1,550 for 8-kg seed (required for per acre) cultivation of maize. Farmers have been paying the government Rs. 350-370 per acre.
Meanwhile, the only hybrid variety of the PAU that made it to the subsidy scheme is PMH-1. The variety is, however, cultivated on a negligible area in the state.
"Pioneer and Shriram are the main seed providing companies for the scheme. Some other companies were also enrolled as more seed was needed. PMH-1 has been cultivated on a negligible area due to its non-availability," said Ranjit Singh Bains, assistance maize development officer, Punjab.
"The scheme was launched suddenly. The PAU was not ready for it. Even government officials were caught napping. Planning of at least a year was required before the scheme could be launched. Private companies are the only gainers at the end of the day," said a PAU official on the condition of anonymity.
Private companies have not really made financial gains out of the opportunity provided to them, but have allowed them to cultivate the market and have an easy field without competition from government agencies. This is significant as the government has plans to increase the area under maize to five lakh hectares soon.
These companies are also leaving no marketing opportunity unused. Representatives of the seed companies were present in Zaid village of Bathinda on Tuesday. PAU went unrepresented.
"The subsidised seeds were shown in demonstration plants. It will be helpful for the farmers to single out the best varieties," said Kamal Kumar Jindal, agricultural development officer, Rampura block.
There is no presence of the PAU in Bathinda as seeds by private companies have been distributed in the district. The PAU variety has been sown only in a few blocks across the state.
"It will help private companies create a market at the expense of the agricultural department. Private companies are yielding double profit in maize diversification project," a source claimed.