AFTER MASSIVE influx of paddy from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to Punjab to be sold at the MSP rate, farmers union leaders of the have caught several trucks of Basmati, a premium quality rice, coming from other states.
Basmati is not purchased by the government but by private players, and has huge demand in the international market. Farmers blamed heavy influx of basmati from other states for the drastic fall in its rates in Punjab this year, as compared to last year. They said traders, rice millers and some political leaders are hand-in-glove and involved in bringing Basmati from UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh (MP), which has a negative impact on the interests of Punjab farmers a millers are also pressuring them to sell their own Basmati at a rate much below the prevailing market price by claiming that they already have enough supply from other states.
This year, farmers are selling the early variety of Basmati Pusa 1509 at Rs 1,600-2,100 per quintal against Rs 2,500-2,700 per quintal the rate of the same variety last year. Traders say even the late Basmati variety 1121 won’t sell at much better rates.
A farm leader said farmers have stopped around a dozen trucks of a Cabinet minister, who owns a rice sheller, carrying Basmati near the Punjab-Haryana border and now another Cabinet minister is requesting them to release the trucks of his colleague. However, farmers are serving food to the truck drivers, unions said.
Amid the pandemic, the Punjab government has converted rice shellers into purchase centres cum mandi yards so as to avoid heavy rush in designated mandis under the Punjab Mandi Board (PMB). With rice shellers serving as mandis, they cannot indulge in their own sale purchase.
“The government’s own notification says that mandi yards owned by private players do not allow them or their relatives to do any trading there, then how can they store rice from other states here as it calls for cancellation of their licenses?” asked Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bharti Kisan Union (Dakunda).
By allowing the transportation of Basmati from other states to Punjab by millers or arhtiyas, who also own rice shellers and store at their own premises, the government is nullifying its own rule, he said.
“Under the garb of the coronavirus, the Modi government has passed the three anti-farmers Bills while the state government, under the garb of coronavirus, converted the rice shellers into procurement centre/cum mandis yards and gave a free hand to millers to purchase the Basmati crop from across India and store in their own shellers, even if its detrimental to the farming community of Punjab,” said Jagmohan.
“How can these politicians protect our interests?” asked another farmer.
Farmers on the other hand said traders are not only looting the farmers of other states, but also the farmers of their own states and minting money.
“After purchasing from us at Rs 1,600-2,000 per quintal, the millers are selling it three to five times higher rates in the domestic and international markets,” said farmer Dalwinder Singh from Tarn Taran, adding that political leaders are the real owners of several big rice shellers of Punjab and are also involved in arhtiyas’ business.
”If basmati import from other states is not stopped by the government then the fate of Punjab’s farmers will be at stake. Why will they grow Basmati if it has to be sold below the MSP of Paddy?” asked Onkar Singh, a farmer from Majitha, adding, “These politicians have no mercy for poor farmers.”
A rice exporter said Basmati in other states is available to them at quite a cheaper rate, so why would they pay rates to Punjab’s farmers?
The agro processing rice Industry meanwhile said that the rice industry is in total disarray and appealed to the government to intervene.
“It is disheartening that Punjab is facing an extreme crisis with complete dislocation of rice exports and harassment by police and department of vigilance due to detaining of Basmati paddy trucks coming from other states at various barriers during the last one week,” said Director, Punjab Rice Millers Export Association, Ashok Sethi.
Punjab accounts for over 100 Basmati manufacturing units primarily for export and meeting domestic requirements.
While it produces about Rs 8,000 crore-worth of Basmati, the industry needs much more to meet its production capacities.
The export contribution of Punjab is almost 45 per cent of the total country export of Basmati (Rs 34,000 crore).
A large number of export containers carrying rice worth over Rs 5,000 crore are stuck at Ludhiana ICD and other locations, disrupting the entire supply chain and blocking funds, resulting in unprecedented financial crunch, Sethi said.
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