Thursday, October 12, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Paddy: Centre softens stand
Badal meets Shanta in Palampur today
From TV Lakshminarayan in New Delhi, Sarbjit Singh in Chandigarh and Pratibha Chauhan in Palampur
Tribune News Service

A breakthrough in the standoff between the Central procurement agency and Punjab farmers is on the anvil as Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, flies to Palampur tomorrow morning to meet the Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Public Distribution and Food, Mr Shanta Kumar.

A Central team deputed by the Prime Minister at the instance of Mr Badal is expected to submit its report to Mr Shanta Kumar in Palampur any time now. The team, it is understood, has suggested several measures to speed up procurement in the state where farmers have been agitating in protest against the indifferent and callous attitude of the Central procurement agency.

The Central team is reported to be in favour of giving relaxation in discolouration, relaxation in damaged or slightly damaged grains besides suggesting some administrative steps to boost procurement from the state.

A formal decision is expected any time, probably after the meeting between Mr Shanta Kumar and Mr Badal at Palampur tomorrow.

The Tribune, it may be recalled, has been campaigning in support of Punjab farmers who have been forced to resort to distress sale of their produce.

Mr Badal will reach Palampur at 8.30 a.m. Senior functionaries of the Department of Food, Punjab, have already reached Palampur. Some senior functionaries of the Union Ministry of Food, including Mr P.Shankar, Mr K.M. Sahney and Mr B.B. Patnaik, have also reached Palampur.

Tomorrow’s meeting has assumed tremendous importance as farmers in Punjab have threatened to launch a major agitation , including “rail roko”, from October 13 in the state. Even the Punjab , Haryana, Delhi Chamber of Commerce and Industry has urged the Union Food Ministry to relax the specifications of paddy procurement not only to save the entire economy of the region but also to prevent the recurrence of suicides among farmers.

As the paddy muddle is getting murkier every day in Punjab, Mr Badal is pressing the Union Government to relax “out-turn” specifications in the case of procurement of rice from millers.

Rice millers, who shell government and private stocks of paddy, are supposed to deliver 67 kg rice from each quintal of paddy provided to them by the government agencies. For the past several years, millers have insisted that this ratio fixed by the Union Government was unjustified in the light of the mechanical harvesting of paddy by farmers. They wanted this ratio to be brought down to 63 kg against each quintal of paddy.

Sources said Mr Badal would press Mr Shanta Kumar to get the “out-turn” ratio changed. The issue was reportedly taken up with the team of officials which visited Punjab at the instance of the Prime Minister.

Mr Badal had deputed Mr Madan Mohan Mittal, Punjab Food and Supplies Minister, to meet Mr Shanta Kumar in Pathankot yesterday. If the Union Government agrees to change the “out turn” ratio, there could be some relief to the state government on the paddy procurement front. Sources said if the proposal was approved by Mr Shanta Kumar, it would go to a subcommittee which dealt with economic issues of the Union Government for further approval. Mr Badal has already taken up this issue with the Union Finance Minister, it is learnt.

Several ministers have urged Mr Badal to relax specifications in the case of paddy and rice to only those millers who could ensure the minimum support price to paddy growers. Millers should be told to compensate the farmers whose paddy they had bought at a price lower than the MSP.

Meanwhile, questions raised by Union Government officials about the quality of Punjab’s rice have become an issue in the state. Those associated with the foodgrain business in the state blame the FCI for the prevailing mess on the levy rice and paddy front. “It is a big scandal involving several hundred crores and requires to be probed”, said a senior official of a government procurement agency.

How has it been happening for the past several years? Informed sources said in connivance with officials of various agencies, especially of the FCI, millers in Punjab mix broken rice in huge quantity in the levy rice to be delivered to the national pool. Broken rice is procured from other states. Sources said Delhi had emerged as the nodal point to provide such broken rice. Millers, in connivance with officials concerned, get such stocks of levy rice accepted for the national pool.

What happens next? This levy rice goes to the deficit states and also to the public distribution system (PDS). As people in the deficit states and PDS outlets come across a very high percentage of broken rice in the stock, they immediately reject it. Over the years, Punjab’s rice has become the most condemned commodity in the national market because of such activities at the officials and unofficial levels. All concerned with levy rice and the trade associated with rice know about such dirty deals. But as the “food” trade has become a big money-spinning venture, no one has tried to address this issue. Mr Bhure Lal, Chairman of the FCI, made a statement that no state was ready to accept Punjab’s rice, but he did not disclose who was responsible for this.

Why distress sale? It is a known fact that officials of procurement agencies, commission agents and traders gang up at a certain level to “force” the distress sale of paddy in certain markets. While officials reject paddy stocks saying these do not meet the specifications, traders, taking advantatge of the situation, offer to buy the same at a price lower than the MSP. The same paddy bought at a lower price (which is popularly called distress sale) is disposed of at the MSP by the trader to government agencies, allegedly with the connivance of officials associated with the procurement of paddy. And the difference between the rate paid to farmers and the MSP is shared by officials, commission agents and traders. It happened on a big scale in Ferozepore district two years ago. The state government had ordered a high-level inquiry in this connection and a senior officer of the Mandi Board was deputed to investigate the same.

Sources said this was happening again. It is worth investigating. There was an urgent need to break the commission agent-official-traders nexus to farmers in Punjab.

The BJP President, Mr Bangaru Laxman, met a delegation of Punjab farmers at the party headquarters in New Delhi today. The meeting, organised by the Kisan Morcha of the Punjab BJP unit, was attended by more than 750 farmers.

The procurement crisis figured prominently at the meeting and the BJP President assured the delegation that the government would be asked to do its best to resolve the issue.

The party leaders also explained to the farmers that the Centre was considering relaxing the procurement norms.

Mr Laxman assured the farmers that “Atalji’s government will definitely look into the problems of our farmers and it has already taken certain steps towards this end, such as increasing the ration quota and considering a food-for-work scheme.”

The BJP vice-president, Mr Jana Krishnamurthy, when asked what the government would do with the rice that was not good in quality, said it would be distributed among the public.

The Union Agriculture Ministe, Mr Nitish Kumar, also stated during the day that the government was committed to procuring the entire quantity of paddy arriving in the mandis of Punjab at the MSP. The government, he said, was duty bound to procure paddy wherever the prices fell below the MSP.


Stop distress sale: CM

The Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Wednesday directed the Secretary, Punjab Mandi Board, to despatch SOS messages to all mandis in the state to ensure MSP price to farmers and stop the reported distress sale of paddy by farmers to private rice millers.

He has also instructed various Central and state procurement agencies to ensure that farmers get the minimum support price of Rs 540 per quintal for ‘A’ grade variety of paddy and Rs 510 per quintal for common grade.

Presiding over a high level meeting to expedite the paddy procurement process, the Chief Minister directed the FCI and other agencies to step up the pace of purchases and clear the mandis by lifting procured paddy within three days.

Mr Badal further told the officers that when the FCI and state agencies have sufficient funds at their disposal, there should be no reason why the payment to farmers should not be made within 72 hours on their paddy produce sold in the market. He also directed the Secretary, Food and Supplies, Mr P. Ram, to immediately issue the necessary directions to smoothen the need-based inter-district movement of paddy stock without any administrative bottlenecks.

Home | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | In Spotlight | Chandigarh Tribune | Ludhiana Tribune
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
120 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |