Even on the third day of the official purchase of paddy, no procurement agency entered the market, which may add to the worries of farmers.
The procurement agencies are on strike and rice millers have decided not to mill paddy under new policy that requires them to submit bank guarantee that matches mill capacity. Rice millers from six districts around Faridkot gathered at Muktsar on Wednesday and declared not to mill paddy under present clause.
The procurement opened on Monday. The price of the early varieties of paddy such as PR 111 has fallen from the earlier highest of Rs 1,400 a quintal to only Rs 5 more than the minimum support price (Rs 1,285). This is because of the increasing arrival of the produce in the market. Only the PR 111 variety is much in demand among private traders. Next week, when main crop starts arriving, the price may drop further, unless the government agencies begin procuring paddy. Having only private procurement will lead to paddy glut.
Commission agents and farmers both apprehend trouble. "If the procurement agencies do not enter the market now and the millers don't agree to lift paddy, farmers may have to sit for days at the market to sell produce, which will lead to a paddy glut," said Ashok Kumar Goel, general secretary of the arhtiya (commission agent) association of Kotkapura. Making enough gunny bags available will be another challenge."
"In the previous wheat season, we overcame the shortage of bags by using our own sacks," say Mohinder Kumar Bansal, commission agents from Faridkot. "Most of the commission agents still haven't been paid for the gunny bags," said Pardeep Kumar Garg, another commission agents from the city.
Employees of the procurement agencies on Wednesday submitted a memoredum to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in Chandigarh. The paddy is stored in rice mills, where we have no guard," said Gurmeet Singh Sekhon, an employee on protest, "but in case of any misappropriation, employees are held responsible."
"Some of the clauses in the new milling policy are unacceptable," said Harpal Singh Sandhu, president of the rice millers association of Faridkot. "We are required to submit a bank guarantee of Rs 30 lakh for each metric ton of paddy and another 20 lakh for each metric ton of paddy added. The new policy is silent on the old norm of 1% relaxation in dryness. The government has also stopped paying us rent on the wooden crates in which we store paddy."
Millers also required to finish milling by March 31, failing which, they will have to pay 13% interest. "The delivery of rice depends on acceptance by the Food Corporation of India (FCI)," said Harpal Singh Sandhu. "The FCI has shortage of technical workers and special trains, but why should we pay for it."
All the purchase centres in the district are closed, yet farmers are taking their produce to Kotkapura and Faridkot. "Many farmers can't afford to carry produce to distant cities," says a farmer sitting in a village purchase centre here. Deputy commissioner Ravi Bhagt was not available for comments.