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Bajra may become a key poll issue in Rajasthan

Onions had spelt doom for the BJP in the 1998 Delhi Assembly election. Bajra has potential to do the same to Congress in Rajasthan this year.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2003 19:55 IST

Onions had spelt doom for the BJP in the 1998 Delhi Assembly elections. Bajra has the potential to do the same to the Congress in Rajasthan this year.

Procurement of bajra, the staple diet of western Rajasthan, at the minimum support price threatens to become an election issue here.

The reason: quality inspectors of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) rejecting over 90 per cent of the grains brought by farmers.

Till Friday, of the 2166 metric tonnes of bajra brought by farmers, only 122 metric tonnes were found fit.

The Centre has fixed a procurement target of one lakh metric tonnes against the estimated production of 30 lakh metric tonnes.

While Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is setting up a task force to monitor the prices of onions, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has asked the Centre to relax quality norms for procurement.

In 2001, the Centre had eased quality norms but by then farmers had already sold their produce to traders, who actually benefited.

Again, after much uproar, on Saturday, the Centre relaxed the norms — from the existing 2.5 per cent to 5 per cent for slightly damaged/discoloured grains. Also, a three-member central team has arrived here to assess the situation.

But the relaxation may not mean much. Because of rains at the ripening stage, most of the bajra don't meet even the revised quality norms, officials said.

"Farmers have no savings left. They need money for fertilisers and seeds to sow rabi crops. With the Centre playing politics over bajra, it would be a 2001-like situation in which traders would benefit," said Dulichand, secretary of Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha.

FCI regional manager R.B.S. Sisodia expressed helplessness. "What can we do? We have been given quality specifications."

Farmers are losing their patience, as is evident from reports of clashes between them and officials engaged in bajra procurement.

However, economists do not favour relaxing norms as it could lead to a situation where million of tonnes of foodgrains would be rotting in godowns. "Farmers should be protected but the quality norms should not be relaxed beyond a point.

Also alternate uses of bajra should be explored," said S.S. Acharya, Director, Institute of Development Studies and former chairman of Agriculture Prices Commission.

First Published: Oct 12, 2003 00:38 IST