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Different grain, same pain

lucknow Updated: Dec 19, 2012 12:21 IST
Brajendra K Parashar
Brajendra K Parashar
Hindustan Times
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After wheat, it is now the turn of paddy to make farmers cry. A large number of farmers in Uttar Pradesh are compelled to go for distress sale of paddy for much below the minimum support price fixed by the government at Rs. 1250 per quintal.

The reason: eight designated state government agencies that are supposed to purchase paddy from farmers to ensure they don’t have to dump their stock to traders below the MSP are actually not able to do the job.

Their failure may be attributed to a dispute between the state government and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) or a nexus between the middlemen/ traders and the government agencies. The end result: Not many farmers are able to sell their produce at the paddy procurement centres.

“Since government agencies refuse to purchase paddy from farmers on pretexts like shortage of gunny bags or poor quality of paddy, most farmers feel compelled to sell their output at a rate as low as Rs. 700 per quintal,” alleged Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait.

Tikait further claimed the government agencies deliberately did not purchase the produce directly from farmers so that the latter would have to sell it to middlemen and traders out of compulsion. “Later, the government agencies purchase the produce, be it rice or wheat, from traders at a higher rate to achieve their targets,” he revealed.

Certainly, statistics do show very low procurement of paddy this year so far. As per details available with the food and civil supplies department here, the eight state government agencies together have been able to purchase only 4.81 lakh MT paddy so far, which is less than 20 % of the total target of 25 lakh MT to be achieved by February 28, 2013. The FCI, which had been given a target of 50,000 MT paddy, has not purchased a single grain so far.

Around this time last year, the paddy purchase by government agencies was around 10 lakh MT or almost 50% of the target. Paddy procurement is supposed to begin on October 1 and end on February 28 every year.The state government, however, is blaming the FCI for the low paddy purchase in the state. “The FCI has made its norms for purchase of rice from us stricter and impractical,” claimed a senior official.

“The paddy we procure from farmers is sent to rice mills to get rice out of it which, in turn, is purchased by the FCI for the Central pool (there is no state pool for rice),” he explained adding, “But the FCI this time is almost not purchasing the rice we send to it, rejecting the lot on the pretext of inferior quality.” He said since the FCI was not purchasing the rice, the agencies-mills-FCI rotation stood broken, making government agencies reluctant to purchase paddy from farmers.

“There is no use in purchasing more paddy when the FCI is reluctant to purchase the rice that mills make from the governmentpurchased paddy,” he explained and pointed out over 1 lakh MT paddy already purchased from farmers remained dumped at government godowns for this reason.

That the FCI is reluctantly purchasing the rice is evident from the fact that mills have made 2.5 lakh MT rice from the total paddy sent to them by the government, but the FCI has purchased merely 33000 MT rice so far with rest of it being dumped in rice mills only.

The deadlock, the official hoped, might be broken very soon as food and civil supplies minister Raguraj Pratap Singh aka Raja Bhaiyya, he said, had taken up the issue vigorously with his counterpart in the Central government.

Sudeep Singh, FCI general manager (UP), denied the corporation was in any way responsible for the low paddy purchase. “We are purchasing rice as per old norms and no new norms have been made for the current year,” he claimed.

Farmers had faced a similar situation with regard to sale of wheat to government agencies this summer. The shortage of gunny bags and lack of storage with the government agencies forced farmers to sell their wheat to traders at a price lower than the MSP.