The state government, it seems, is taking farmers for a ride this kharif season by persuading them to grow basmati varieties rather than regular varieties of paddy as no Minimum Support Price (MSP) has been announced for the crop yet.
The central government is yet to take a decision on MSP for basmati varieties.
The absence of fixed MSP is not the only issue. As per the previous trends, government agencies didn't procure basmati. The local traders and private agencies were only the buyers, who generally fix rates autocratically on their own.
With an aim to bring in crop diversification in order to save depleting water table, the state government has instructed heads of agriculture department to increase area under basmati, which consumes less water, in their respective areas.
Agriculture experts say that the government should first clarify on the issue of MSP before promoting this paddy variety and exhorting farmers to grow it.
In the recent draft agriculture policy, Punjab State Farmers' Commission (PSFC) chairman GS Kalkat had proposed to the government to promote crop diversification and exhort farmers to grow basmati and other crops, including maize, vegetables, cereals and pulses.
At the same time, the commission also recommended to offer farmers adequate subsidy on seed, better marketing facilities and good MSP to implement the diversification project.
As compared to other varieties of paddy, those of basmati are generally sown in July and consume less water, which reduces the input costs for farmers. Usually, regular varieties take 160-170 days to get mature besides consume more water than many other recommended paddy varieties.
Basmati proves a lucrative proposition for farmers as they get R2,300-2,400 per quintal for basmati varieties against R1,285 for non-basmati varieties.
Last year, in Sangrur district, around 21,000 hectare area was under different basmati varieties as compared to 2.55 lakh hectare under regular paddy. This year, the agriculture department plans to increase area to 25,000 hectare.
Sukhdev Singh Kokri, general secretary of Bharitya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan), said, “Why should a farmer take the risk when he does not have any idea about the MSP of the crop he is going to grow?”
Kokri said though farmers were willing to grow crops consuming less water but at the same time they were reluctant as no MSP has been fixed and there is no concrete assurance from government on the purchase.
“Before promoting crops under diversification, finalising the MSP and government policy on purchase of diversified crops are a must as it is the only way to motivate farmers to shift from water-consuming crops in the kharif season,” he said.
A consortium of Indian Farmers' Association on Tuesday met Ashok Gulati, chairman of Agricultural Prices and cost Commission, over the issue. Satnam Singh Bheru, president of the association, said they have demanded from the Centre to fix R2,400 per quintal as MSP for basmati varieties besides ensuring that it is purchased by government.