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Paddy growers, agents make hay
Yoginder Gupta
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 14
Commission agents and paddy growers never had it so good as the rice belt of Haryana witnesses a unique phenomenon this year. Millers are paying from their pocket to commission agents and farmers for paddy being purchased on behalf of government agencies. The component being paid by the millers, over and above the minimum support price (MSP) fixed by the government, varies from Rs 30 to Rs 40 per quintal, depending upon the mandi.

According to sources in the rice trade, the highest premium (Rs 40) being paid by the millers is in the mandis of Karnal, Pehowa and Dhand. In mandis like Kurukshetra, Pipli, Ladwa and Ambala, the premium hovers around Rs 30 per quintal. However, there are certain mandis like Jagadhari where no premium is charged.

The government agencies intervene in the market if paddy is not purchased by private traders above the MSP. The paddy so purchased is handed over by the government agencies to the private millers for custom milling. Theoretically, the agencies are supposed to handle the purchase process themselves. However, in practice, it is the millers who purchase paddy on behalf of the agencies, taking care of loading, unloading and storing the crop on their premises. The millers are registered with different agencies. The government has earmarked mandis in which only the authorised agencies would operate. The commission agents in each mandi know which miller is registered with which agency.

This year there is a keen race among the millers for the custom milling of paddy as this reduces their risk virtually to zero. Though the Centre has increased the price of levy rice to Rs 1,173 per quintal, it is still not being considered as remunerative by the millers. Therefore, they have turned to the custom milling of paddy. Government money is used to purchase paddy and the millers get Rs 15 per quintal as milling charges. So while there is no financially liability, the millers also get by products like rice peeling (polish) and husk. In fact, the lure of byproducts, which fetch a good price to the millers in the open market, is greater than that of the milling charges.

Till last year, the sources say, the millers used to get a cut on the paddy purchased on behalf of the government agencies. The cut used to vary from Rs 5 to Rs 10 per quintal. This cut used to be recovered from the farmers by the commission agents. However, the situation was reversed this year.

The sources say the practice of paying premium on the paddy purchased by the government agencies began at the start of this season. Certain millers, to whom commission agents were not keen on selling paddy, offered a premium of Rs 10 per quintal to the agents. Soon the practice spread and even reputed millers had to pay the premium. Initially, the premium was not passed on to the growers and was pocketed by the agents themselves. However, soon the farmers came to know of the practice and they rightfully demanded the additional money being paid by the millers in the past, it was they (farmers) who had been giving a cut to the millers.

The agents agreed to the demand of the farmers, but the premium increased to the present level of Rs 30 to Rs 40 per quintal. The sources say the premium is being equally shared by the commission agents and the farmers.

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