Three days after returning from the Krishi Upaj Mandi in Rajasthan’s Sriganganagar city, 48-year-old farmer Gurpreet Singh Sandhu still can’t stop rueing his loss — he had to sell most of his mustard produce of 75 quintals at a price much lower than the minimum support price (MSP).
“I sustained a loss of Rs 900 on each quintal after selling the mustard at just over Rs 3,500 a quintal at the mandi. Last year, by this time I had sold my produce to the government at MSP of Rs 4,200 a quintal,” says Sandhu, a resident of 8NN village under Padampur tehsil of Srigangnagar.
For this year’s rabi season, the Centre has fixed Rs. 4,425 a quintal as MSP for rapeseed and mustard. However, with the delay in government procurement due to the lockdown, farmers in most areas of Rajasthan are unable to sell their produce at the MSP.
In Rajasthan, the Rajasthan State Co-operative Marketing Federation Ltd (RAJFED) is procuring mustard and gram at the MSP of Rs 4,425 and 4,875 per quintal, respectively, but procurement is now functional only in a few districts in Kota division, leaving farmers from other districts like Sriganganagar with no option but to wait or sell their produce at throwaway prices to private players at mandis.
Government data shows that as of Tuesday, the average price of mustard in four mandis of Sriganganagar-Jaitsar, Padampur, Sadulsahar and Sriganganagar was Rs 3,640, Rs 3,801, Rs 3,711 and Rs 3,765 respectively, much lower than the MSP of Rs 4,425.
Ranvir Singh Chahar, Sriganganagar regional officer, RAJFED, told The Indian Express that procurement of mustard in the district would start from May 1.
“I couldn’t wait till the government procurement starts. Sowing for the kharif season has already started and I needed money immediately to purchase seeds and pay the labour for sowing cotton in the kharif season. We have no way of recovering our losses,” says Sandhu, who had sown mustard on 16 acres.
Sanjay Pathak, general manager, RAJFED, told The Indian Express that this year, in the procurement period of three months, the government has a target of procuring 10.46 lakh metric tonnes of mustard and 6.17 lakh metric tonnes of gram at the MSP. He added that there was a delay of around 15 days in starting the procurement process due to the lockdown.
Data from RAJFED shows that after procurement started in Kota region from April 16, till Tuesday morning, only 3,927.1 metric tonnes of mustard and 4,521.10 metric tonnes of gram have been procured by RAJFED, which is under the state Cooperative Department.
A total of 2,72,795 farmers are registered with RAJFED to sell their produce to the government at MSP. Online registration was stopped after the lockdown was announced. Among those registered, only 7,547 farmers have been allotted dates for purchase of produce.
Officials say that online registration will again begin from May 1. RAJFED has also increased the number of mustard and gram procurement centres from 279 — which were sanctioned before the COVID-19 outbreak — to 781 for each of the commodities. The centres have been increased to ensure social distancing.
However, farmers say this delay in procurement has hit them hard, forcing many who are in need of cash to sell their produce at much lower rates.
At Sodhana village in Baran district’s Kishanganj tehsil, 58-year-old Mukesh Paliwal is unsure whether he should wait till May 15, the date allotted by him for government procurement of wheat at MSP of Rs 1,925 per quintal by the Food Corporation of India (FCI). Paliwal says he is reluctant to sell 80 quintals of his wheat produce to private players at lower prices.
But Ajay Singh Choudhary, another farmer from Kishanganj tehsil, says that due to his urgent need for cash, he couldn’t wait and had to sell his produce at a much lower rate.
“I went to Baran to sell wheat to the government at MSP, but after standing in the queue for three days I couldn’t get a token. I needed cash urgently for labourers and other expenses, so I had to sell 500 quintals at the Krishi Upaj Mandi Baran. The wheat was sold for Rs 1,743 and Rs 1,661 per quintal — lower than MSP,” said Choudhary.
He added that he had to sell 90 quintals of mustard at the mandi for Rs 3,822 per quintal and gram for Rs. 3,780 per quintal, both lower than their MSPs.
FCI general manager (region) Sanjeev Bhasker told The Indian Express that the FCI has a target of procuring 17 lakh metric tonnes of wheat in Rajasthan till June 30. The procurement is not done online but through manual token system, with the process being overseen by each district administration, he said.
According to data from the Commissionerate of Agriculture, Rajasthan, the first advance estimates for the rabi season show that the wheat production in the state this year has been 1,21,85,150 tonnes.
“Till Monday we have procured 74,720 metric tonnes of wheat. Of this, 69,658 metric tonnes is from Kota division as procurement started there on April 16 while purchasing in other districts commenced on April 25. We are taking measures to ensure social distancing. A daily quota on the procurement limit of each purchase centre has been fixed for this purpose,” said Bhasker.
To maintain social distancing, wheat procurement centres have also been increased, with more than 400 of the now functional in the state, said officials.
The lockdown is also showing its effect in mandis, where the business is low because of less produce being brought.
“Each farmer is generally allowed only 2-3 tractor-trolleys of produce as per orders of the district administration. Earlier, one farmer could bring 10 tractor-trolleys. As a result we are sustaining losses,” said Deendayal Nagar, a trader at the Krishi Upaj Mandi, Baran.
Farmer leaders say the delay in government procurement has resulted in problems for agriculturists. “For 60-70 per cent of farmers, the situation is hand-to-mouth. They won’t get any money in hand if their produce remains unsold, so out of desperation they are selling produce at very low prices. If there is delay by the government, farmers have no choice but to sell to private players at low prices,” said Ranjit Singh Raju, convener, Gramin Kisan Mazdoor Samiti (GKS), Sriganganagar.
“Starting from May 1, procurement of mustard and gram will start in all districts of the state along with new registrations,” said RAJFED managing director Sushma Arora.
During his recent video conferences with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had said that under the Prime Minister Asha Scheme, 25 per cent of the total yields of crops are procured at the MSP, which is inadequate. Farmers should be provided relief in such a tough time by increasing the purchase limit on MSP to 50 per cent. Also, the FCI and NAFED etc. should urgently start the MSP procurement of crops in phased manner, Gehlot had said.
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