Rice millers firm on stand, distress sale of paddy starts
Due to the tussle between the state government and rice millers over signing of contracts and millers’ refusal to provide space for storing paddy, distress sale of the crop has started. Only 6 lakh metric tonne has been purchased leading to glut in mandis of Khanna, Ludhiana, Gurdaspur and Amritsar, where the crop is selling ₹200 below the MSP. By the end of this week, maximum quantity of the crop is also expected to reach the mandis, adding to the pressure on space. Overall, the state expects a production of 170 lakh metric tonne.
At Khanna, the largest mandi in Asia, there is hardly any space for farmers to unload their crop for procurement, as the entire market is full of stock of purchased stock and there is hardly any lifting.
“We are not purchasing paddy, as millers are not cooperating. We cannot purchase, if they won’t allow us to store paddy. I can’t take risk of purchasing paddy, if its not lifted from market and stored in the allotted rice mill. Until the stock reaches the rice miller, it is my sole responsibility,” said an official in the food and civil supplies department, requesting anonymity.
Only 15% millers have signed deal with government
The situation is set to intensify, as till October 10, only 15% (511) of 4,092 rice millers had signed an agreement with the Punjab food and civil supplies department for milling of paddy for the Food Corporation of India (FCI). Punjab does not have own space to stock paddy. Usually, this process is completed before September 30. “I have sold my paddy at ₹200 below MSP to a private miller. There is no government purchase,” said Surjit Singh, a farmer, at Bhagatanwala grain market.
Punjab Rice Millers Association president Tarsem Saini said they would not sign an agreement with the government until the issue of storage and clearance of stock by the FCI was resolved. “I fail to understand why the state government is opposing us. Our grudge is against the FCI and central government, which didn’t move previous stocks from Punjab, leaving almost negligible space to store new milled rice,” he said, adding that the Punjab government should pressure the Centre to lift stock of previous years.
“Almost 80% of storage space is already full; another crop is arriving. Under the present policy, milling won’t be completed before October 2020, which is a loss-making formula. Millers can’t take the risk of holding rice beyond March 2020, as increase in temperature decreases the weight of stocked rice, due to loss of moisture,” he said, reiterating that the rice millers would not life stock. He admitted that due to the stand-off, distress sale of paddy was happening.
Food and civil supplies minister KAP Sihna said he was optimistic that millers will start lifting. “We are in the process of signing agreements with rice millers.”
On apprehension of shortage of space with the FCI for rice and movement of stock, he had taken up matter with the Centre to make more space for rice. “We will ensure that every grain of farmers is purchased at MSP,” he claimed.