Updated: November 16, 2020 5:40:19 pm
An average of 3 to 4 lakh tonnes of paddy is reaching mandis in Punjab everyday, even as the state has procured nearly 196 lakh tonnes of the kharif produce. The state is expecting to procure nearly 200 lakh tonnes more than the estimate it had projected based on nearly 27.36 lakh hectares of area under rice crop.
This, however, is not a new phenomenon. For past several years, Punjab has been procuring more paddy than it produces. It is because several traders and rice shellers illegally bring into Punjab a large amount of paddy bought at lower rates from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar Punjab, to be sold at the minimum support price (MSP) in mandis here.
While such illegal ‘import’ of non-Basmati varieties of paddy is nothing new, this year the sheer volume of it highlights how acute is the problem.
This was one of the reason why Punjab Assembly last month passed the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020. The state Bill, among others, negate the Farmers’ Produce Trade and commerce (Promotion and facilitation) Act 2020 formulated by Centre. The central law is the basis for the Union government’s ambitious ‘One Nation One Market’ programme. The law aims to promote barrier-free inter-state trade and commerce of farmer’s produce outside the physical premises of markets or deemed markets notified under various state agricultural produce market legislations.
The Punjab Bill, which was handed over to Governor VPS Badnore to be forwarded to the President, has made procurement of paddy or wheat below their minimum support prices (MSP) a criminal offence inviting monetary penalty and imprisonment of up to three years.
While the Bill has not yet been granted Presidential assent, questions are being raised as to why Punjab mandis are procuring paddy that is being imported from other state, especially at a time when state has moved to negate central laws.
The enactment of the central law is being opposed by the farmers in Punjab on the pretext that it will help big traders and corporate houses, who have the capacity and means of purchasing the grain from anywhere, even as the poor and small farmers are not even able to go to mandis in the neighbouring districts to sell their produce because of heavy transportation charge. They also believe that the Centre would gradually do away with the MSP system.
“We had been apprehending that the Centre’s laws are not in favour of farmers but in favour of big traders and corporates. Our fears have come true. The big traders are procuring paddy at rates ranging from Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,400 per quintal from farmers in Bihar and UP to sell in Punjab’s mandis where government agencies procure the same at the MSP of Rs 1,888 per quintal,” said Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan) General Secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan.
He reiterated that paddy from other states were being brought to Punjab by big traders and rice shellers and not by the farmers.
“When the state government has rejected central laws, then it should go by its own legislation and not allow entry of paddy from other states into Punjab as it will adversly affect our farmers in the long run,” said BKU (Dakaunda) general secretary Jagmohan Singh. He said that a few hundred trucks carrying such paddy from other state that were confiscated recently were just a fraction of the larger illegal trade taking place this time.
Punjab Arhtiya Association president Ravinder Singh Cheema too alleged that “big people are involved in this illegal trade” and added that while such paddy was being brought in earlier too “the trade was not at such a large scale”. He said every state government has the duty to take care of the crop of their farmers and both Bihar and UP governments have failed to do so by not procuring the produce at MSP.
Vice-president, Punjab Mandi Board (PMB), Vijay Kalra, said that such trucks entering into the borders of Punjab should be stopped and people indulging in such trade booked. “Booking truck drivers or employees will not serve any purpose,” he said, adding that rice shellers and officials of government departments dealing with procurement must be taken to task if they are allowing the sale of paddy from outside Punjab.
“We should support our government that took a daring decision of negating the central laws rather than indulging in petty benefits at the cost of the state,” he adding that the illegal trade will affect Punjab’s farmers in long run if the Centre starts putting sanctions on the Cash Credit Limit (CCL). “MSP facility is for paddy from Punjab not for paddy from other states,” he said adding that due to bulk arrival and purchase of outside paddy, Punjab is facing the shortage of gunny bags.
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