Monday, October 16, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

350-cr relief for Punjab
Farmers to get MSP of Rs 540 * Limit for damaged paddy up

Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Oct 15 — In a major political victory, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal today succeeded in getting a Rs 350-crore relief package from the Centre for the state farmers hit by damaged paddy crops due to unseasonal rains.

The package, which includes Rs 100-crore compensatory relief to be shared equally by the Centre and the state, was announced after Mr Badal had a meeting with the Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, and the Consumer Affairs Minister, Mr Shanta Kumar.

The state farmers, now, would be paid the original minimum support price (MSP) of paddy of Rs 540 per quintal for grade ‘A’ paddy and Rs 510 per quintal for common paddy, a Punjab Government press note said here.

Earlier, Mr Shanta Kumar had allowed a relaxation of 4 per cent beyond the maximum limit of 3 per cent for damaged paddy but reduced the MSP by Rs 25 per quintal, resulting in a Rs 250-crore loss to the farmers.

The Centre has also acceded to the request of Mr Badal to reduce the rice out-turn ratio for damaged paddy by 3 per cent.

Besides, the Rs 100-crore compensatory relief would be given to those farmers who had made distress sale at prices below the MSP till October 14.

Demanding this compensation, the farmers joined by several political parties had resorted to widespread protest in the state, including rail roko, rasta roko, rallies and bandh in the past few days.

Yesterday, a statewide bandh was observed in Punjab. The package would go a long way to strengthen the understanding between the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee and Mr Badal. At the same time, this would negate the Opposition’s propaganda and restore peace to the state as the package meets the demands of the agitating farmers.

The meeting also decided that there would be no compromise in the quality of rice supplied to consumers as rice specifications have not been relaxed.

It is only the rice yield that has been reduced. Therefore quantity of rice will go down marginally, but there would be no change in quality, the note said.

The meeting was attended by the Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, the Punjab Food and Supply Minister, Mr Madan Mohan Mittal, the state Labour Minister, Mr Balramji Dass Tandon, the Agriculture Minister, Mr Gurdev Singh Badal, and the Cooperatives Minister, Mr Ranjit Singh Brahmpura.

Paddy crop in Punjab was affected because of unseasonal rainfall in the third and fourth weeks of September.

Mr Badal contended that paddy was not a machine-made precision product and called for a pragmatic decision, keeping in mind the ground realities.

With today’s decision, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and the Punjab Government would procure in Punjab paddy with damaged, discoloured, sprouted and shrivelled grains, up to a maximum limit of 7 per cent instead of the present 3 per cent of fair average quality paddy.

The government has also decided to procure paddy with a moisture content up to a maximum limit of 18 per cent instead of 16 per cent as announced earlier, the note said.

CHANDIGARH: On his return here, Mr Badal told mediapersons that the new procurement specifications and disbursement of relief would be applicable to the affected farmers from September 21 when the procurement operations officially commenced.

Expressing "full satisfaction" over the response of the Centre to the SOS from Punjab, he disclosed that he had spoken to the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is recuperating in Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai after a knee operation, on Saturday and briefed him of the plight of the farmers and their agitation.

Mr Badal apologised to the farmers for the hardship they had to face. He was confident that now, they would withdraw their stir. "Not a grain of paddy will be purchased below the MSP in the state. The necessary instructions have been issued," he added.

It may be recalled that to extract concessions from the Centre, the Chief Minister had to seek the intervention of the Prime Minister at least three times. First, he persuaded the Centre to advance the official date of procurement of paddy from October 1. It was fixed for September 21. Later, he had to seek relaxations in the "specifications", which was done, raising the percentage of damaged paddy to be procured from 3 to 7 (effective October 13). While this was done, the Centre imposed a "cut" on the MSP, much to the chagrin of the Chef Minister and the farmers.

After today's meeting, the percentage of damage has been further enhanced to 8 and the cut on MSP rolled back. In between, the statement of the Food Corporation of India Chairman, Mr Bhure Lal, that 80 per cent Punjab paddy was "defective" created ripples which led to commotion in the state, with farmers' organisations giving a call for Punjab bandh and "rasta roko" agitation.

Meantime, scientists at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, have submitted a report contradicting the statement of Mr Bhure Lal and giving paddy a clean chit of being "fit".

Mr Badal informed that he told the Centre that rather than getting into nitty-gritty of "statistics and specifications", it was time to come to the rescue of the farmers and end their frustration and prevent the situation from snowballing into a law and order problem.

To a question, Mr Badal said besides the short-term measure of the relief package which will help clear the mandis of the paddy glut, the need of the hour was to have a proper long-term perspective on the entire paddy operations, right from deciding upon the right time of sowing, the right variety, kits harvesting, procurement, storage, milling and distribution.

The Centre agreed to such a system being evolved for which Mr Badal said Punjab would take the initiative since it is a pioneer in agriculture. He admitted that no one knows what functional powers the Centre and states have in agriculture, which is a state subject. From fixing the procurement price to procurement, it is the Centre which controls. Even input prices are controlled by the Centre. The produce does not even fix the price of his own grains. The entire gambit of foodgrain has to be studied and streamlined in the larger interest of both the producer and the consumer.

As there will be more foodgrain production in future, a long-term policy was required, he added.

Another issue the Chief Minister referred to was the use of word "surplus" for foodgrains. With over 300 million poor people who can ill-afford to buy one square meal, how can it be called "surplus"? Their interest has to be watched. For proper distribution, even storage has to be done on a scientific basis and wastage avoided.


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