|N E W S
I N ..D E T A I L
Thursday, October 22, 1998
Central team leaves for
Punjab to assess
NEW DELHI, Oct 21 A team of officials of the Union Food Ministry today left for Punjab to make an on-the-spot assessment of the crop damage even as the Agriculture Ministry estimated that 18 lakh tonnes of rice had been affected.
The team headed by Mr B.B. Patnaik, Joint Commissioner, Storage and Research in the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs and comprising officials of the Food Corporation of India will visit markets in Punjab to take stock of the extent of damage caused to the crops, especially paddy and cotton. It will submit its report within two days.
The teams visit follows a request from the Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, for a central assistance of Rs 300 crore to meet the losses suffered by the state's farmers. The Punjab Government has estimated the losses to be around Rs 1000 crore.
Mr Badal met the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Union Food Minister, Mr Surjit Singh Barnala, here yesterday to brief them about the crop damage.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Ministry officials today reviewed the food crop position in the country in the wake of last week's untimely rain and estimated that around 18 lakh tonnes of rice had been affected in Punjab.
The quality of harvested paddy would also suffer due to the untimely rain and it was likely to get discoloured, ministry sources said.
Both basmati and non-basmati varieties of rice in Haryana had also been affected with the ministry estimating that 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the total produce of 25 lakh tonnes would suffer due to the untimely rain.
Cotton in Punjab, too, has been a casualty of the weekend rain and the ministry estimated that the target production of 15 lakh bales would have to be toned down to 9.5 lakh bales, the same as that achieved in the previous year.
It was estimated that about one-third of the potato crop in Punjab had been affected due to the rain in the past week. The rest of the crop is sown after October 15.
Punjab contributes about eight lakh tonnes of potato of the total production of 107 lakh tonnes and the damage to the crop will have only a marginal effect on the overall availability of potatoes in the next season.
The overall position of oilseed and pulse production is good with only 8 per cent of the sown area in Andhra Pradesh being affected due to the rain.
Farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are expected to sow more mustard because of the late rain. In Rajasthan, where 20 per cent area under the oilseed crop has been affected, the farmers will make up for the loss by going in for resowing.
At the mercy of millers
KHARAR, Oct 21 It is around 4 p.m. All eyes are set on a medium-sized stoutly-built man standing in a corner of the local grain market. With their hands folded, farmers are standing besides their partially damaged stacks of paddy.
Like an agile basketball player, the stout man moves from his place and digs out a sample of paddy from one of the stacks and announces his verdict: "Rs 300", indicating that the paddy in that heap will be procured at the rate of Rs 300 per quintal.
He moves to the next pile. This time he announces: "Rs 325". His movements are brisk as he moves from stack to stack making the pronouncements to the great relief of distressed farmers. His rate varies between Rs 300 and Rs 450 depending upon the quality and appearance of the paddy. He uses his discretion with authority to decide the fate of farmers.
Who is this man? The Tribune team asks a farmer. "You do not know. He is a big rice miller. He is making all the purchases leaving only those which are either stinking or are drenched," comes the answer promptly.
Why government procurement agencies have not turned up? Replying to this query, a commission agent said that the agency people had come this morning. But either most of the paddy heaps were damaged to the extent that they were unable to procure to specification restrictions or some stacks were so fine in quality that private mill owners bought those by offering more than the minimum support price.
Elsewhere, at Badali Alla Singh, rice millers made the bulk of the purchases today, at a price varying between Rs 350 and Rs 400 per quintal, which is much below the minimum support price. The procurement agencies also made some selective purchases.
Clearly, the traders are making hay while the sun shines. In fact, the sun only shines for traders while it set for farmers four days before Divali when hundreds of tonnes of their farm produce was damaged in the procurement centres as well as in the fields. As specifications have not been relaxed so far and the Punjab Government is looking towards the union capital in this connection, farmers are left at the mercy of traders as far as disposing of their affected paddy is concerned.
In most of the grain markets, procurement resumed yesterday after a break of almost a week. If the procurement had been made on October 15, hundreds of farmers in the state would not have suffered.
Several hundred tonnes of paddy lying in the grain markets has turned black. Even some part of it has become unfit not only for human consumption but also for animals as fodder. It stinks. Farmers were seen loading it on their trolleys to take it back home.
At Bassi Pathanan, Mr Baljinder Singh, a resident of Khalaspur village, said that he would try to use some part of the damaged paddy for his cattle heads but some would have to be destroyed.
The tale of Mr Amarjit Singh, a resident of Ghumand village, was more pathetic. He had taken 20 acres of land on rent by paying Rs 1.8 lakh. His entire stock of 500 quintals was damaged. The stocks of paddy that had sprouted were shown to The Tribune team.
Mr Didar Singh, a commission agent at Badali Alla Singh grain market, told The Tribune that farmers had suffered so much that they would not be able to pay dues to arhtias. His assessment was that only 5 per cent of the farmers would be able to return loans. He said he was out in the villages when it was raining on October 16 and 17 to ascertain the fate of paddy stocks lying with farmers, either at their houses or in the farms.
Farmers were busy trying to dry their stocks. They told The Tribune that at least 25 per cent of the paddy crop was standing in the fields. The harvesting operations would be possible only after two more days of sun- shine.While combine harvester owners had raised the rates from Rs 400 to Rs 700 per acre, the manual labour was now demanding Rs 1200 against Rs 800 earlier.
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