A week has passed since the Punjab government announced the start of the procurement of paddy, but uncertainty prevails as farmers across the state await the lifting of their kharif crop.
The coarse grain paddy, which is covered under the minimum support price (MSP), has still not attracted the state or central government procurement agencies, and the premium quality basmati, which is not covered under the support price, awaits traders and exporters.
“The wait makes us uneasy and it’s depressing when after hard work and labour of five months there are no buyers,” said farmers Nachhatar Singh and Darshan Singh, who sit on a cot opposite their pile of freshly harvested paddy, unloaded on Thursday outside the shop of their commission agent in the Khanna grain market, the largest in Asia.
“High moisture content deters lifting of paddy covered under the MSP. This time, the Centre is strict and has asked the state procurement agencies and the Centre’s Food Corporation of India not to procure paddy with moisture content higher than 14%,” said commission agent Harish Kumar, who is interested in lifting the basmati produce of the farmers attached to him. “I have already committed `2,600 per quintal, but there are no buyers,” he said.
The commission agents are drying up the piles of paddy arriving in the mandi so that these are not rejected by the teams of procurement agencies that are expected to visit the mandi.
There is another issue hampering the procurement and so far there is no solution. A directive from the Centre has asked the procurement agencies to fill 40 kg paddy in gunny bags meant for 35 kg. The idea is to save gunny bags but workers say it is not possible.
“It seems impossible to fill more paddy in the bags. Never before were such orders given; now they (Centre) want to save bags,” said an officer of a an agency deputed in the market, who confirmed that FCI had procured just a few thousand kilograms of paddy while the basmati lifted is nil. Despite the efforts made by the Punjab government to encourage lifting of basmati, it is yet to yield results. Even the exemption given to traders from outside Punjab, especially Haryana, is not working.
Food and civil supplies minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon and Punjab Mandi Board chairman Ajmer Singh Lakhowal are meeting central ministers on the issue of filling 40kg paddy in the bag. “With the Centre giving exemption from this order, the paddy procurement would pick up,” Lakhowal said.