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Paddy procurement mess in Odisha and Chhattisgarh, states blame Centre

After Chhattisgarh, Odisha government has accused the Centre of stalling the paddy procurement process in the state, resulting in many farmers having to sell their produce at a price lesser than the Minimum Support Price (MSP) fixed by the Centre or keep their produce at marketing yards.

A farmer, Ramcharan Patel, of Sambalpur district, has been keeping a vigil during the wintry nights on his 200 quintals of paddy, which has been lying unsold at the Jamankira purchase center run by the state government, where about 270 farmers take turns to protect their paddy bags. Around 16,000 tonnes have been stacked at the centre. At the neighbouring Demrinmunda marketing yard, another 5,900 tonnes of paddy is waiting to be procured.

“I have no option but to wait for procurement to start as the price being offered by private players is very less than the MSP. I will lose up to 500 per quintal,” he said, urging the state’s food minister Ranendra Pratap Swain to re-start the procurement. However, some farmers have sold their harvest below the MSP as the moisture level was increasing in the produce, thereby deteriorating its quality.

Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh had a bumper paddy harvest this year due to good rains. In Odisha, experts said the state did not revise its ceiling of paddy procurement of 19 quintals for every acre of irrigated land and 13 quintals for every acre of non-irrigated land. “As a result, thousands of farmers were left with unsold paddy which they had to sell at half the price of the MSP fixed by the government,” said Ashok Pradhan, farmer leader of western Odisha.

Paddy procurement has been stopped by the government at many places, especially in the rice bowl area of western Odisha, forcing the farmers to either store the produce at their homes or to sell them at low prices.

In a letter to the Union food minister, Piyush Goyal, Odisha’s food minister, Swain, blamed the Centre for the present crisis saying it has failed to pay a pending subsidy amount of 6,039 crore towards paddy procurement.

“The Odisha State Civil Supplies Corporation, which does paddy procurement, has so far borrowed a staggering sum of 15,000 crore to run the programme due to non-release of subsidy by the Department of Food and Public Distribution. As all resources including the sanctioned limit of bank finances has been exhausted by OSCSC, the pending subsidy may be released urgently as further paddy procurement from farmers will be severely affected,” he wrote.

The Odisha minister also took exception to the Food Corporation of India’s (FCI) missive to the Odisha government for limiting the delivery of surplus parboiled (partially boiled in husk) rice of Odisha to the extent of 50% of the last year’s delivery and not to accept any surplus in the form of parboiled rice during the Rabi season of the current Kharif Marketing Season (KMS) 2020-21.

“Odisha’s own consumption under the PDS (public distribution system) and other welfare schemes currently comes to 24 lakh MT (metric tonne) of rice. The estimated surplus that needs to be evacuated by the FCI from the State in the current kharif season would be in the range of 30 lakh MT,” Swain said.

The BJP has, however, blamed the Biju Janata Dal government for the mess.

Bargarh BJP MP Suresh Pujari, who would spearhead the protest on Thursday at Sambalpur, blamed the state government for farmers’ grievances. “Farmers are being forced to sell their paddy much below the minimum support price fixed by the Centre at 1,868 per quintal as the state has been unable to procure. The minister had promised that criminal cases will be filed if paddy is procured below the MSP at any place. However, no such action has been taken anywhere,” said Pujari.

State Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare department had recently claimed that it has procured 35.06 lakh tonne of paddy during the current kharif marketing season, 22% cent higher than that of the procurement made in the corresponding period last year. About 28.81 lakh tonne of paddy was procured last year.

In Chhattisgarh, chief minister Bhupesh Baghel had accused the Centre of reducing paddy procurement target. “The Centre agreed on 60 lakh (MT) procurement of paddy from Chhattisgarh but has reduced it to 24 lakh(MT) putting additional financial burden on us,” Baghel said.

The CM said it was responsibility of the Centre to procure its quota of grains from the state at the MSP and pay the state accordingly. “It is a conspiracy to disrupt paddy procurement in the state,” said state Congress president Mohan Markam.

However, former chief minister and BJP leader Raman Singh hit back saying the paddy procurement has stopped in the state due to mismanagement of the state government. “They (the government) are blaming the Centre to hide its shortcomings,” he said.

Jharkhand also faced paddy procurement delays as it wanted the Centre to increase its quota because of the bumper crop, but it did not happen. “Due to the bumper crop this year, we are expecting better procurement this season compared to previous season. We will procure whatever we can,” said Jharkhand food minister, Rameshwar Oraon.

The issues in paddy procurement comes at the time when the Central government is holding negotiations with about 40 farmer bodies on three farm laws and a legal MSP guarantee. The 10th round of talk on Thursday between the Central government and farmer bodies remained inclusive.

(With inputs from Sanjoy Dey in Ranchi)

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