Tardy wheat procurement: Grain markets brimming but Punjab coffers empty

  • Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Apr 20, 2016 17:16 IST
Tonnes of wheat lying in the open at the new grain market in Patiala on Monday. (Bharat Bhushan/HT )

As the Punjab government is waiting for the release of Rs 20,094-crore cash-credit limit (CCL) for wheat procurement, the grain markets in the state, especially in the Malwa belt, are brimming. The government started procuring wheat from April 1.

The wheat arrival in Malwa grain markets is in its final stage but state agencies don’t have funds to pay the farmers for their produce and are only taking possession of the wheat stocks from commission agents.

“There is not an inch to store wheat in the grain markets and not a penny to be paid to the farmers,” said secretary of the Commission Agents’ Association Gurjeet Singh, who is based in the Khanna mandi, largest in Asia where 80% of the expected crop has already arrived.

Read more: SBI asked to make provisions on food grain loans to Punjab

It is difficult to pacify the farmers for the delay in payment as all their expenditures, including preparing land for kharif (paddy) sowing and paying off their debt, depends on payments from their wheat produce.

There are 68 big grain markets and around 800 small procurement centres in the Malwa, Doaba belts and Majha has 74 big mandis and a 1,000 small procurement centres. Wheat arrival began in the first week of April in the Malwa belt, followed by Doaba and Majha. Punjab has set a target to procure 120 lakh tonnes of wheat this season and has sought the CCL of Rs 20,000 crore to make payments to the farmers.

So far, the procurement agencies — PUNGRAIN, MARKFED, PUNSUP, state Warehousing Corporation and state Agro Industries Corporation and the Centre’s Food Corporation of India (FCI) — have procured over 30 lakh tonnes of wheat, which is 25% of the total expected arrivals.

An official in state food and civil supplies department, which monitors food grain procurement through different agencies, revealed that as per the government norms, farmers’ produce is to be lifted within 72 hours after arrival and payment is to be made within 48 hours after it is lifted. “We are helpless because we have to depend upon the Centre for funds for procurement,” he added.

Harjeet Singh, a farmer from a village on outskirts of Patiala and also a commission agent, said the agents have paid from the pockets and now the farmers are flatly told to wait for payments till the Centre releases funds for procurement. He added that in the absence of funds, lifting of the crop has not gathered pace.

Another farmer Nachhatar Singh, who unloaded his crop in the Patiala grain market, said: “Delay in lifting means loss to the farmers because in dry weather, grain loses moisture content leading to fall in weight. For every 50kg wheat bag, a farmer is suffering a loss of 1kg,” he added.

Amarjeet Singh Mann of Kadiala village in Ludhiana can afford delay in payment as he has about 100 acres land in his family’s name. “But a small and marginal farmer with 5 to 10 acres cannot afford the delay. For him, late payment means delay in paddy sowing, and to do it in time he takes loan,” he told HT.

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