Ahead of wheat procurement season, farmers in Punjab expecting a bumper crop this year fear huge losses because of the Centre’s decision of “zero per cent import duty” on wheat, which may lead to excess supply. In December last year, the Union government had announced zero import duty on wheat. As a result, around 55 lakh tonnes of wheat from countries like Ukraine and Australia will reach Indian ports in February. Without any import duty, wheat from foreign countries is cheaper than what is available in India. Big players in wheat trade already have stocks till July and August. Jagmohan Singh Dakunda, General Secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), criticised the “zero per cent import duty” on wheat as an anti-farmer policy and said they would meet Union government’s representatives soon on this issue.
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“We are expecting bumper production of wheat this season. But since huge stocks have already arrived from outside, who will purchase our farmers’ wheat,” he said.
“We feel India has sufficient stocks of wheat and this move is to benefit big corporate houses and MNCs which are into wheat import business and running big flour mills of the country,” Dakunda said, adding that such decisions were taken under pressure from lobbies of big MNCs which want India to agree for ‘free trade’ conditions under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement.
“Small farmers like us always prefer to sell the crop either to trader or to commission agents so that he can have immediate payment as there is always long delays in the payments by the government agencies, which procure the wheat at a fixed Minimum Support Price (MSP). But now, these traders have already stocked their godowns and there would be no takers except government agencies,” said Ajmer Singh, a farmer from Jalandhar’s Chuarwali village who owns five acres of land.
Anil Tinkoo, a flour mill owner in Jalandhar’s mandi (market), said the Centre’s decision would hit the farmers in the state hard this time as traders, who used to purchase 30 to 40 per cent of the total production of the wheat directly from farmers, had already stocked cheap imported wheat sufficiently.
Naresh Ghai, president of Punjab Roller Flour Mills Association, said, “Government should make any policy in the beginning of the season and that should not be changed upto the next season. As far as wheat import is concerned, import duty was changed thrice last year, from 25 per cent duty in the beginning to 10 per cent and then to zero.”
“Traders who invest in wheat presuming certain rates are also doomed due to frequent changes in the policy,” he said.
The import duty on wheat was removed in 2016-17 due to less production of wheat in the last year owing to inclement weather conditions. Because of shortage, wheat prices had shot up to Rs 2,200 to 2,300 per