Having harvested a record wheat crop, and set to procure the highest wheat crop for the central pool — around 132 lakh tonnes (LT), 5 per cent more than the state government’s initial estimate — Punjab has remained mired in a political battle over a reported shortage of gunny bags to take the crop to the grain markets in the run-up to the polling day.
Punjab has nearly 18.5 lakh households of farmers, including 10.25 lakh small and marginal farmers who own less than 5 acres of land, and both ruling Congress and opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) are raising the issue and blaming each other, apparently with an eye on this sizeable constituency of voters.
At 46.43 per cent, Punjab is the highest contributor of wheat to the central pool.
State Agriculture Department’s director Sutantra Airy told The Sunday Express that the state government earlier expected around 125 LT wheat to be brought to the grain markets of Punjab, but due to a good spell of winter weather, “we are now expecting 5-per cent more production”. As a result, “nearly 132 LT will be procured by government agencies,” he said. Airy said total production is set to reach 182 or 183 LT — this is against 178 LT last year, when 128 LT was procured by government agencies.
On May 4, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh raised the issue of gunny bag shortage at an election rally and blamed the Narendra Modi government for diverting 16,000 bales of gunny bags (each bale contains 500 bags) from Punjab to Haryana. Amarinder alleged that the Centre did this at the behest of SAD, a BJP ally, to create a shortage of bags in Punjab during the procurement season, and help neighboring Haryana, which has a BJP government.
The same day, Union Food Processing Minister and sitting MP and candidate from Bathinda, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, slammed the Congress government in Punjab. Addressing the CM, she said, “Raja Saheb, you have to tell farmers, who are sitting for days at mandis (wholesale crop markets), why your government failed to procure bags in advance.”
K A P Sinha, Secretary, Food and Civil Supplies, Punjab, said the department had earlier made arrangement to procure 118 LT wheat (for which 4.72 lakh bales were required). But following extra production, an increased demand was raised with the Centre in April, when wheat procurement began, after which “extra bags started reaching”, Sinha said. “We apprehended the shortage in advance. Now there is no shortage.”
Harbans Singh Rosha, president of Khanna grain mandi, the “largest grain market of Punjab”, said, “We didn’t face any shortage of gunny bags.” But Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), said, “Due to shortage of bags in some mandis of Malwa region, farmers were forced to sit at mandis for days to sell their crop.”