M A I N   N E W S

No takers for poor paddy
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Khanna, October 1
A major crisis situation has begun to develop with state government procurement agencies not prepared to procure discoloured and damaged paddy. The quantity of such paddy is huge in Punjab.

The woefully slow procurement of paddy has resulted in virtually flooding of grain markets, such as Khanna mandi, and also building up of anger among the farmers.

After a gap of five years, Punjab is again faced with the problem of discolouration of paddy. The percentage of black (discoloured) and damaged grains arriving in various markets is about four to five times more than that the prescribed limit, which is 3 per cent.

The problem of moisture content in paddy is within manageable limits. However, what has put the procurement agencies and the state government in a hard situation is the discolouration factor. Because of inclement weather in the third week of September, flag smut (a disease) had attacked paddy in vast areas, thus turning the grains black.

The Punjab Government would have to approach the Union Government to get the specification relaxed to get the discoloured paddy procured. Otherwise, the government and farmers will have to face serious economic and social hardship.

Five years ago, the government led by Mr Parkash Singh Badal had faced a similar situation. It had to approach the then Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee”, to get the paddy specification relaxed. In spite of opposition by certain senior officials of the FCI and Union Ministers, Mr Vajpayee had relaxed the specifications.

Farmers, upset over the delay in lifting of stocks, have lost patience. They have started resorting to ‘direct action’ to press the government to procure their produce. This evening, the farmers held a protest at Morinda against non-procurement of paddy. These camping at Khanna Mandi for the past six days today warned the government that if their paddy was not procured by Monday, they would block the Ludhiana-Delhi highway in protest.

Informed sources said following political pressure and intensive lobbying by the Commission Agents Association of Khanna, three government procurement agencies-Punsup, Markfed and the Punjab Supplies Department- procured about 40,000 quintals of paddy this evening in Khanna Mandi. Despite this, about 1.5 lakh quintals of paddy is still lying in that mandi.

Mr Harbans Singh Rosha, president of the Commission Agents Association, told The Tribune this evening that on the intervention of the Food and Supplies Minister, Mr Avtar Henry, senior officers of Punsup, including its Managing-Director, Mr S.S. Ghuman, and also the Food and Supplies Department had rushed here this evening to supervise paddy procurement .

“Mr Henry has directed the officials concerned that they should not bother about the discolouration factor and procure all those stacks of paddy where the quality of rice has not been affected”, claimed Mr Rosha.

Officials of the government procurement agencies are not prepared to take any risk as far as procuring discoloured paddy is concerned. The recent raids by the CBI on FCI godowns in Punjab to collect samples of rice, a said to be substandard, has created a scare among them.

They say FCI officials will not accept rice from discoloured paddy in coming weeks. “The Punjab Government will take us to task”, they add.

Mr Malkiat Singh of Mirpur village, who had been camping at the local grain market for the past five days, says that he is spending about Rs 100 daily from his pocket to stay here. “ I am not sure when my paddy will be lifted”. Certain farmers have come as far as Nawanshahr to sell their paddy. “ We are going through a tough time for the past six days”, they say.

“We have spent about Rs 5,000 per acre — from transplantation to harvesting. And the way we are being made to camp here, we will save nothing from the paddy crop”, says Mr Gurdial Singh of Seh village.

Similar views were expressed by Mr Gopal Singh, Mr Amit Kumar, Mr Ajaib Singh, Mr Baldev Singh Nawanshahr, all farmers, and Mr Surinder Kumar, a commission agent.


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