The chairman of the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED) on Tuesday hit out at the Gujarat government over groundnut godowns catching fire, and alleged irregularities in the process of procurement of groundnut in the state. He demanded that the state government order a probe into the procurement process as, he said, the matter was affecting the prestige of Gujarat.
“These days, NAFED is held responsible for irregularities in procurement of groundnut, godowns (where such groundnut is stored) catching fire, etc. The minister of agriculture in the government of Gujarat, R C Faldu, has given statements in the press (to this effect). But apparently, he has not been properly apprised of facts or he has not studied them,” Vaghji Boda said at a press conference in Rajkot.
Boda said the Centre appoints NAFED, the apex agricultural cooperative body of the country, as the nodal agency for procurement of agricultural commodities at MSP. After being directed to start procuring a given agricultural commodity from a given state, NAFED authorises the state cooperative federation to do procurement on its behalf. The state cooperative federation in turn signs agreements with sale and purchase unions of various districts. These unions enter into agreements with their taluka counterparts, which assign the work of opening centres for procurement of a commodity. NAFED gets such centres approved by the Centre.
Boda alleged that this system was bypassed in the procurement of groundnut from Gujarat in the 2017-18 season. “This year, Gujarat identified and approved centres itself and authorised them for procurement. Procurement centres were awarded to milk union, cotton federation (Gujarat State Cooperative Cotton Federation) etc and to cooperative societies that are sick,” he said. “The agriculture minister has been talking about responsibility of NAFED. But the government should initiate a probe and punish the guilty, be it NAFED or others,” the NAFED chairman said. “Please order a probe. The prestige of Gujarat is being grossly undermined.” Calls and messages from The Indian Express to Agriculture Minister Faldu went unanswered.
In the run-up to Assembly elections last year, the BJP government had requested the Centre to procure groundnut from Gujarat as farmers had harvested bumper 32 lakh tonnes of the crop. The state government had also announced Rs 50 per quintal bonus over and above the Rs 4,450 effective MSP fixed by the Centre. After being directed by the Centre, NAFED started procuring groundnut from October 25 and the operation continued till April. In all, NAFED procured 9 lakh tonnes of groundnut worth Rs 3,600 crore from 5 lakh farmers. The procurement was done by 253 centres opened by cooperative bodies. Besides agricultural cooperative societies, dairy unions like Banas Dairy and Sabar Dairy were also given mandate to procure groundnut. Three godowns where groundnut procured by NAFED was stored have caught fire since January this year.
“The Gujarat government had authorised APMC Board to hire godowns. This board hired warehouses of private parties in a reckless manner and made serious mistakes… Godowns in Shapar-Veraval, Gondal and Gandhidham, the three which caught fire, were hired by Gujarat State Warehousing Corporation and GUJCOT. There has been no complaint about godowns of Central Warehousing Corporation,” Boda said.