With the basmati price showing an upward trend after remaining low during procurement, growers in Punjab and Haryana on Wednesday described the “sudden rise” in rates as a “big scam”, alleging traders had paid them “peanuts” for their crop under a “well-planned conspiracy”.
Extending support to basmati growers, rice exporters blamed arhtiyas (commission agents) for the situation, saying they exploited farmers and hoarded aromatic rice varieties to make “super profit”. Farmers also accused the two state governments of “turning blind eye to the scam”. “It was a well-planned conspiracy of the traders to deny farmers remunerative price for their basmati crop,” Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokri said on Wednesday here. He said the Punjab government had done nothing to prevent exploitation in spite of complaints.
The price of popular basmati variety PUSA 1121 has risen to Rs 3,100 per quintal as opposed to Rs 1,300 early this month. The price of 1509 variety also jumped to Rs 1,800 a quintal. “What good is the price rise now when more than 90% farmers have disposed of their crop. They do not have the capacity to store it for selling it when the price is better,” said Kokri. The BKU (Ugrahan) demands Rs 4,500 per quintal rate for basmati 1509 and Rs 5,000 per quintal for PUSA 1121.
The farmers’ outfits had launched a massive agitation against the Punjab government and the Centre last month, paralysing rail services for a week in the state. They allege a trader-miller nexus in the purchase of 1509 variety at lower rates. “The millers sold it for a higher rate and delivered ordinary variety to the government,” said BKU (Haryana) state president Gurnam Singh, demanding a high-level inquiry.
Rice exporters accused middlemen and commission agents of looting farmers and them by manipulating the market. “Commission agents bought basmati crop at very low rates and hoarded it to create artificial shortage to jack up the price. They cheated farmers and overcharged exporters,” said Punjab Rice Millers and Exporters Association director Ashok Sethi.
Punjab and Haryana are major growers of the premium variety of rice, with about 8 lakh and 7 lakh hectares, respectively, covered in these states.