Heaps of groundnut had accumulated on the main yard of the Rajkot Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) on Saturday before the auctioning began under police deployment. For the last two days, the auction had been suspended after Sardar Patel Group (SPG), one of the outfits spearheading Patidar quota agitation, disrupted the proceedings, demanding that the lowest bid for the purchase of groundnut should be Rs 4,500. Before the model code of conduct had set in, the BJP government in Gujarat last month announced that it will purchase groundnut at the minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 4,500 per quintal (Rs 900 per 20 kg) from farmers. The Rs 4,500 per quintal MSP for groundnut-in-shell includes the price of Rs 4,250, Rs 200 bonus announced by the Centre and an additional Rs 50 bonus by the Gujarat government.
While the state government has been purchasing groundnut at the MSP, the Sardar Patel Group is now demanding a similar price in the open market as well. But when the auction started on Thursday morning at Rajkot APMC, the wholesalers were found quoting prices in the range of Rs 3,500 to Rs 4,500. Wholesalers said that oil mills can’t afford to purchase groundnut at Rs 900 per 20 kg if the groundnut oil sells for Rs 100 per kg. “As a result, we can’t offer higher prices to farmers. We can offer prices based on the quality of the groundnut,” said Jay Sakhrelia, a wholesaler at Rajkot APMC.
The APMC authorities said they are helpless. “I just wonder if the government can purchase all the groundnut. So, open market cannot be kept shut. We tried to reason with farmers but they are presently siding with the SPG and forcing suspension of the auction. Open market offers prices as per the quality of goods. But since this is election time, such issues crop up. We sought police deployment on Saturday to ensure that law and order is not disturbed on the yard. We persuaded farmers that starting auction will be in their interest only. They agreed and the auction started. The police deployment will continue for two to three more days,” said Devraj Sakhiya, chairman of Rajkot APMC, who is also the president of Rajkot district unit of the BJP.
Around 6,600 quintal of groundnut was sold on Saturday. Incidentally, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had also forced suspension of auction of groundnut at Junagadh APMC on Wednesday over the same issue. Thousands of farmers have got themselves registered with National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED), which has set up 123 centres across Gujarat — a majority of them in Saurashtra-Kutch region which has 54 Assembly constituencies — to facilitate the purchase.
Despite that, a majority of farmers are preferring the open market even though the price offered there is being significantly low as compared to the MSP. One of the possible reasons could be snail’s pace of purchasing operations at the government procurement centres. While 1,185 farmers have registered for selling their produce at Junagadh APMC, the Gujcot centre there had purchased groundnut from only 20 till Thursday. Similarly, Rajkot APMC centre has 800 registered farmers, but has been able to purchase groundnut from only 15 only during the first two days.
The centre at Gondal has also been able to entertain only 19 farmers and purchase 382 quintal of groundnut till Thursday. Meanwhile, farmers sold 10,905 quintal of groundnut in the open market at Gondal APMC, and their average realisation was merely Rs 3,730 per quintal. Manish Bhuva, a 28-year-old farmer from Kharachiya village of Rajkot, has not been able to sell his 20 quintal groundnut due to disruption of auction for the last two days. “I have been coming to the APMC for the last two days, but they (agitators) are not allowing auction. But I want to sell it, even if I get Rs 3,500 price as I have to purchase wheat and cumin seed for sowing and pay the labourers,” says Bhuva.
When asked why he did not sell his groundnut to the government, Bhuva said: “I am in urgent need of money. I need to hire labourers for picking my cotton. If I sell to government, payment is likely to be delayed. But I cannot afford delay in sowing winter crops as irrigation water remains available for a limited time.” Agreeing with Bhuva, NAFED chairman Vaghji Patel said farmers will have to wait for the payment for 10 days at least. “We depend on grant from the central government. Due to procedural issues, farmers are likely to get payment through RTGS (Real-time Gross Settlement),” Patel told The Sunday Express.
Patel added farmers were preferring not to sell their produce to government due to procedural issues. “For selling their groundnut to government, a farmer has to obtain a certificate from local panchayat, submit it along with records of his land holding, bank details, Aadhar card and so on for registering himself online with NAFED with the help of local agencies and then wait for his turn. On the other hand, if he sells his groundnut in open market at APMC, he gets payment on the spot,” said the NAFED president. Sources said that farmers who had sold their groundnut to government last year had received payment after around two months. But, the agencies, tasked with the MSP operations, said they were facing difficulties too. “We contacted at least 25 farmers on Thursday but only nine turned up with their groundnut. The rest said their produce was not ready. On top of all this, our server was down on Wednesday afternoon, and therefore, we had to stop operations in the second half,” said Ashok Patel, Gujcot purchase manager in-charge of the Rajkot centre.
Gujcot has purchased 9,421 quintal of groundnut at 51 centres in Saurashtra till Thursday, while Gujarat State Cooperative Marketing Federation Limited (Gujcomasol) has bought 365 quintal from 18 centres in the region. Official sources said the Gujarat government had requested the Centre to purchase 8.5 lakh tonnes of groundnut, but it sanctioned procurement of just 3.5 lakh tonnes. This is around 10 per cent of 31 lakh tonne production, estimated by Saurashtra Oil Mills Association.