January 23, 2021 4:59:00 am
The issue of paddy procurement in the state snowballed into a political slugfest with the opposition BJP holding a sit in protest on the intervening night of Thursday and Friday in Sambalpur and accusing the ruling BJD of ignoring farmers’ welfare and hampering paddy procurement in the state.
The issue comes amid the state government’s tussle with the Centre over the latter’s decision to cap parboiled rice procurement from the state to 50 percent.
A scuffle broke out at the protest site among BJP workers and the police following which, 50 workers of the saffron party were detained and released later, officials said.
State BJP leaders allege that the BJD government has misled farmers with its centralised token system, with many farmers unable to sell their produce. The BJD however, assured that the crop of “genuine” farmers would be procured.
Following the Food Corporation of India’s (FCI’s) decision to cap procurement, the BJD had threatened a stir if the decision was not retracted within seven days.
Rajya Sabha MP and BJP in-charge of Odisha, Bijaypal Singh Tomar said, “Due to the token system, many farmers are still waiting for their turn. They are forced to sell their produce below the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs 1,868, as the procurement is stalled at various government-run yards.”
“The government has been claiming that this year, they have procured 22 per cent more paddy than last year. But the reality is totally opposite. Food supplies minister Ranendra Pratap Swain had promised that criminal cases will be filed if paddy is procured below the MSP at any place. But no cases are being filed anywhere,” BJP MP from Bargarh, Suresh Pujari, alleged.
BJD spokesperson Shreemayee Mishra hit out at the allegations saying the state BJP was representing the interests of “middle-men”.
“When paddy procurement has happened in such huge scale benefiting farmers, some middle-men (dalals) have caught hold of Odisha BJP, and they are advocating for them. People of Odisha know that Odisha BJP has always been advocating for middle-men (Dalals),” Mishra said.
“Further, in order to divert the attention from the farmers’ agitation going on in Delhi, the Odisha BJP is unnecessarily creating nuisance, which the people of Odisha have very well understood,” she added.
Amid the political back-and-forth, farmers, whose produce is yet to be sold, have started a night vigil at yards their wares from theft.
Ashok Pradhan, a farmer leader in western Odisha, said the centralized tokens of most farmers have expired and that they now await its renewal as the produce remains unsold. “Unlike other years, this year luckily there was no pest infestation or natural calamity, which is why the harvest was good. However, there have been a lot of issues pertaining to procurement, forcing farmers to sell below MSP in open yards,” Pradhan said.
“First, the government did not revise its ceiling of paddy procurement of 19 quintals for every acre of irrigated land and 13 quintals for every acre of non-irrigated land. As a result, thousands of farmers were left with unsold paddy, which they had to sell at half the price of MSP. Then for most, the centralised token system has meant a long wait, adding to their woes,” Pradhan added.
Meanwhile, the state government on Friday also suspended 15 employees of primary agricultural societies (PACS) and dismissed a data entry operator from service on charges of irregularities in paddy procurement. The suspensions were ordered in four districts — Sambalpur, Balangir, Boudh and Keonjhar.
On the other hand, a delegation of BJD MPs interacted with Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Piyush Goyal through video conference on Friday demanding an early resolution on the issue of the cap on rice procurement.
Earlier this week, Swain also wrote to Goyal apprising him about the pending subsidy claims for paddy procurement and FCI’s decision over parboiled rice.
“As all resources including the sanctioned limit of bank finances have been exhausted by OSCSC [Odisha State Civil Supplies Corporation Limited], the pending subsidy may be released urgently as further paddy procurement from farmers will be severely affected,” he had written.
Swain also stated that FCI’s decision will have “far reaching adverse consequences for the state”. The estimated surplus to be evacuated by FCI in the current Marketing session is in the range of 30 lakh MT, Swain informed.
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