Friday, October 6, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

80 pc of paddy defective: FCI
From A.S. Prashar
Tribune News Service

LUDHIANA, Oct 5 — Nearly 80 per cent of the paddy crop arriving in the Punjab mandis is below the specifications laid down by the Government of India.

This was stated here today in a talk with Tribune News Service by Mr Bhure Lal, Chairman of the Food Corporation of India, after a two-day extensive tour of Punjab mandis undertaken in the wake of an outcry by farmers over rejection of their stocks by the FCI and other official procurement agencies. A total of 15 mandis in Ropar, Nawanshahr, Amritsar, Kapurthala and Ludhiana districts were covered by Mr Bhure Lal, who was also accompanied among others by the Additional Secretary, Food, Government of India, Mr Jai Singh Gill, Zonal Manager, FCI, Mr Alok Sinha and Senior Regional Manager, Punjab, Mr D.P. Reddy.

Mr Bhure Lal made it clear that the FCI would not purchase any paddy which did not meet the specifications laid down by the Government of India. “I have told the FCI staff that they must promptly and quickly purchase all paddy which is in accordance with the specifications. There should be no harassment of farmers. Payments are being made within 48 hours of the purchases. I am happy to note that against the target of 30 per cent, the FCI has already purchased 35 per cent of the total purchases made by other official agencies in the state”. So far, FCI has purchased 4.87 lakh tonnes of paddy in addition to 9.11 lakh tonnes procured by the state government agencies.

Punjab is expected to produce a bumper crop of 120 lakh tonnes of paddy this year, of which only about 25 lakh tonnes of paddy will likely meet the specifications set by the Government of India.

Mr Bhure Lal said that during his tour of the mandis, he found that damage in terms of discolouration, shriveling, broken grain etc was up to 50 per cent in certain areas. He showed to this correspondent certain samples of damaged paddy brought by him from a few mandis around Ludhiana. He is taking this samples with him to New Delhi.

“How can such a paddy be accepted by us?” he asked. He would not recommend any dilution of specifications because that would lead to different problems. As a matter of fact, the FCI is still saddled with paddy and rice purchased a couple of years ago after relaxation of specifications by the Government of India. “There is no demand for Punjab rice in the south. They are not prepared even to touch Punjab rice”, he said.

The FCI chief said that he would also advise the state government agencies against any dilution of specifications. During his tour of mandis, Mr Bhure Lal said he found that the farmers had done their best to improve the quality of their produce by cleaning and drying. But as regards discolouration, they had not been able to do much about it.

“I don’t blame the poor farmers. They are doing their best to maximise production and improve quality. But there is something wrong with either the farm practices, or the seed or the soil. They have been deteriorating over the years. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the Punjab Agricultural University and other farm experts have to come together to solve this problem,” Mr Bhure Lal said.

Mr Bhure Lal also debunked a press report that the Punjab Government had no intimation about his visit to Punjab.


Central team to visit Punjab
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Oct 5 - The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, today assured the Punjab Chief Minister, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, that a high-level Central team will be leaving for Punjab today to resolve the ongoing problems about procurement of paddy and to ensure that the farmers were not subjected to harassment.

The state Chief Minister met the Prime Minister at his residence and informed him that a volatile situation had been prevailing in Punjab as procurement had not been going on smoothly because of unilateral upward revision of norms by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.

Farmers, who have brought their produce to the markets, had been waiting in the mandis impatiently for weeks and had now grown desperate and threatening to burn the paddy.

There had been sporadic incidents of rail and road blockades, dharnas, protest rallies, which, if the problem persisted, threatened to develop into a serious law and order situation.

Mr Badal informed the Prime Minister that the Centre should take a pragmatic view of the matter according to ground realities and give such relaxation as were essential pre-requisites for smooth paddy procurement to save the hard-working farmers of Punjab from avoidable hardships and economic setback.

Mr Vajpayee assured the Punjab Chief Minister that a high-level central team would visit all important mandis in Punjab. The two leaders, in their meeting, also decided that the Central team would associate the senior officers of Punjab government to ensure the point of view of the state farmers and the state procurement agencies was properly appreciated.

Mr Badal also complained about the failure of the Food Corporation of India to move out the accumulated foodgrain stocks from Punjab to the consuming areas.

Since sufficient vacant storage space had not been created in Punjab by the FCI, there was a reluctance to go all-out in paddy procurement on one pretext or the other, he said.

Farmers were suffering in Punjab for no fault of theirs. Godowns in Punjab were choked with old food grains which had not been taken over into the Central pool and evacuated by the FCI despite repeated pleas to the Centre, even up to the level of the Prime Minister.

The Punjab State Procurement Agencies were still saddled with crushing burden of 101 lakh metric tonne of old wheat which had not only blocked precious funds, but also caused its deterioration leading to massive losses.

Another 125 lakh metric tonne of paddy would be arriving in the mandis within this month. The FCI had failed to move out 50 lakh metric tonne rice stored in Punjab, which created an apprehension in the minds of the people about their capability to accept about 70 lakh metric tonne rice in the next six months.

The duty to make adequate arrangement for storage of rice and paddy at present and the coming months had not been efficiently discharged by the FCI in Punjab, the Chief Minister said.

Mr Badal asked for a firm commitment from the Centre that the pace of acceptance of rice into the Central pool would not be adversely affected due to shortage of godown space at the disposal of the FCI. 

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