Thursday, September 21, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

All set for paddy procurement from today
By Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

CHANDIGARH, Sept 20 — Grain markets in Punjab and Haryana are all set to regain their vibrancy from tomorrow. Their activity invigorates trade in general and the consumer market in particular for the ensuing festival season.

Officially, the Food Corporation of India and other agencies — Markfed, Punsup, the Punjab Warehousing Corporation and the Department of Food and Supplies in Punjab and Hafed, the Mandi Board and the Food and Supplies Department in Haryana — return to their trading stations from tomorrow to start procuring paddy for the national food buffer.

Of all the monthly “expiration” cycles, relating to procurement, September is the most crucial and truncated one. If left on their own, neither the FCI nor the State agencies would have entered the grain markets for the remaining 10 days of this month.

It was towards the end of the first week of this month that the persuasion of both Mr Parkash Singh Badal and Mr Om Prakash Chautala prepared positions that left no choice for the Union Food Minister, Mr Shanta Kumar, but to accede to their demand for advancing the procurement date.

Not only that, the Food Ministry also relented and agreed to extend for another year the relaxation in the procurement of paddy with 18 per cent moisture content against its own revised guideline of not procuring the grain with more than 16 per cent moisture content.

But for the political leaderships of the two states, it was important to get the official procurement agencies activated earlier than the original programme of commencement of procurement from October 1.This way, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance government in Punjab and the Indian National Lok Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government in Haryana have been successful in thwarting the plans of their respective Oppositions to build up a farmers’ agitation on the issue.

Further, the SAD-BJP government would not have liked any agitation in the state before the Sunam byelection.

By advancing the date of procurement, the FCI has been successful in avoiding any further bitterness between the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Indian National Lok Dal on one hand and the Bharatiya Janata Party on the other. All are alliance partners in the NDA government.

Once procurement operations start, the recession-hit economy is expected to start looking up. In other words, farmers, commission agents and fund-starved state agencies will start looking for the flow of cash to instil a new lease of life into the economy of the state. It in turn, invigorates the consumer market, which is all set for the festival season ahead. Obviously, the economy of the state is so directly dependent upon the procurement of agricultural produce by state agencies that the alternative scenario is frightening to imagine.

Not only that, once procurement starts, the official agencies take some time to settle down in the markets. They will start classifying the paddy — depending upon the moisture content, the colour of the grain and other specifications — to set off a chain of actions, leading at times to protests, or even long agitations, necessitating intervention by the state. It is thus during procurement that besides the state agencies, even the district and state administrations have to be on full alert to avoid any unnecessary harassment of farmers.

The grain markets and the officials connected with their upkeep, who have spent most of the past few months in relative slumber, will witness a beehive of activity for the next couple of months.

Interestingly, little or no attention has been paid to the upkeep of these grain markets. At many places, floodlights are being fixed now and temporary power connections are being provided to facilitate commission agents and state agencies in drying the crop, cleaning it and carrying out other market operations.

For the first 10 days of procurement this month, the operations may be less enthusiastic as the crop is still not ready for harvesting at many places and the arrivals are too meagre or insignificant at other places.

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