MSP system under question after official-trader nexus comes to light in Punjab

Paddy procured from outside state at low cost being allegedly sold in Punjab mandis at higher MSP with the help of officials, commission agents

Ruchika M Khanna

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 22

The release of purported chat between a district manager of the PUNSUP and a trader regarding allowing the sale of paddy procured at lower rates from outside Punjab to procurement agencies at the higher Minimum Support Price (MSP) has exposed the misuse of the MSP system in the state by some unscrupulous dealers to make quick profits.

Trucks carrying paddy from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar stopped at a toll plaza near Amritsar. Paddy bought from UP and Bihar at Rs 1,100-1,200 per quintal is being allegedly sold in Punjab mandis at MSP of Rs 1,888. Tribune Photo: Vishal Kumar

Some traders in the state are buying paddy at Rs 1,100- Rs 1,200 per quintal from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They then transport it to Punjab, and after tying up with officials in mandis, procurement agencies and commission agents, fake records are made to show the paddy was procured from local farmers. The produce is then procured at the MSP, which is Rs 1,888 this year.

In the chat, which has now gone viral, the district manager of the PUNSUP at Patiala discuses how much he should be paid by the commission agent to allow the entry of paddy bought from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar at Rs 1,100-Rs 1,200 per quintal, to be sold to government procurement agencies at Rs 1,888 per quintal.

Trucks carrying paddy from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar stopped at a toll plaza near Amritsar. Paddy bought from UP and Bihar at Rs 1,100-1,200 per quintal is being allegedly sold in Punjab mandis at MSP of Rs 1,888. Tribune Photo: Vishal Kumar

The chat also talks about having an inspector of the traders’ choice posted in the Patiala Mandi.

The PUNSUP official in the chat also talks of negotiating the bribe with the trader, saying it has to be shared with the minister and for organising the visit of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who had come here earlier this month. The chat is claimed to be of October 4.

Since this chat became viral, the official has been placed under suspension by the Food and Supplies Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu and proceedings to dismiss him from service have been initiated.

The minister has denied any role in the controversy, and says his name is being misused. “The moment I learnt of it, I suspended him showing zero tolerance to such frauds,” he said.

The now suspended official has also approached the police, claiming that it is a “fake” chat.

The revelation has come at a time when Punjab Vidhan Sabha has passed three Bills, which among others makes buying of crops at MSP mandatory.

The expose is now being used by the BJP-led Centre to point at the chinks in the MSP system for buying foodgrains, and the need for replacing it with the laws enacted by the Parliament last month – allowing private purchase of grains outside the mandis.

Sources in the Food and Supplies Department and the PUNSUP say that the practice of buying cheaper paddy from states, where MSP on crops is not given, and selling them to government agencies here at the MSP, has been going on for quite some time.

“No wonder, the paddy bought in Punjab in each procurement season is more than the paddy produced in the state,” a PUNSUP official said requesting anonymity. “Last year, 11.82 lakh tonnes of paddy, over and above the production of 152 lakh metric tonnes, was recorded.”

KAP Sinha, Principal Secretary, Food and Supplies, said that the department had asked the police to register cases against illegal transportation of paddy into the state.

“Around 200 trucks have been seized and action initiated against unscrupulous dealers, while a similar number of trucks are being examined. I have written to all District Managers to keep a strict vigil and seek police help wherever an anomaly is detected,” he said.

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