Payment of bonus on wheat, over and above the Centre’s minimum support price (MSP), once helped Madhya Pradesh script a major agricultural success story, besides delivering successive electoral triumphs for the then Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.
But ahead of Lok Sabha polls — MP votes in four phases between April 29 and May 19 — it has become a serious bone of contention between the state government, now under Congress, and the BJP-ruled Centre.
On March 5, the Kamal Nath-headed Congress government announced an incentive of Rs 160 per quintal for wheat growers, on top of the Centre’s Rs 1,840 MSP for the 2018-19 crop currently being marketed in mandis.
The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has questioned the bonus, citing a communication from the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution (MCAFPD). The letter, dated June 12, 2014, stated that if any state government declared a bonus on paddy or wheat, procurement for the Central pool will be limited to the extent of the concerned state’s requirement of grain for its targeted public distribution system (TPDS) and other welfare schemes (OWS). Further, that state “will be responsible for the disposal of any surplus quantity procured and bear the financial burden in that regard”.
FCI has, accordingly, conveyed to the MP government that it may not lift more than 30 lakh tonnes (lt) of wheat, roughly corresponding to the state’s TPDS/OWS needs. This is as against the projected 75-80 lt procurement from the state in the ongoing rabi marketing season from March 15 to June 15.
FCI has held that the Rs 160/quintal incentive is simply bonus by another name, which violates the terms and conditions entered by it with the previous state government in 2016. “Being over and above the MSP, it is effectively a bonus. We are, then, not obliged to take any surplus wheat beyond the state’s own estimated TPDS/OWS requirement of 30 lt. The MCAFPD may take a final call on this in a day or two,” FCI’s General Manager (MP Region) Abhishek Yadav told The Indian Express.
The issue could snowball into a major talking point, as the poll campaign picks up along with wheat arrivals in mandis across MP. Farmer unrest was also a key issue in the recent November Assembly elections, which saw a change of guard in the state after 15 years of BJP rule.
Kedar Sirohi, working president of the Congress’s Kisan wing in MP, termed the Centre’s move politically motivated and anti-farmer. “They are quoting the 2016 agreement. But how did the earlier BJP government declare bonuses for the last two crops and the FCI allow full procurement?” he pointed out.
The Chouhan government, in February 2018, had announced a bonus of Rs 265 per quintal for the to-be-procured 2017-18 wheat and also Rs 200 for the preceding year’s crop on a retrospective basis. The Centre raised no objections, apparently keeping in mind the state elections that were due later in the year.
“We have brought it to the Centre’s notice that the concession (to the 2016 agreement) was made in 2018 and FCI lifted the entire wheat procured from MP last year. The MCAFPD will decide whether to allow a similar concession this time. On our part, we have informed the state government that any extra price constitutes a violation of the agreement,” said Yadav.
The Congress administration, however, has maintained that the Rs 160 bonus — taking the total procurement price to Rs 2,000/quintal, the same as for last year’s wheat (see table) — was only an “incentive” and “support” to compensate farmers for the higher input costs not adequately covered by the MSP. In the event of the Centre’s refusal, the MP government will have to pay for the entire “surplus” wheat procurement of 45-50 lt, apart from providing for its transport and storage.
“Instead of appreciating an Opposition-ruled state’s effort to help wheat producers, the Centre is making its anti-farmer intentions obvious. They (BJP) will pay for it in the Lok Sabha elections as well,” claimed Sirohi.
The Congress government announced the bonus on the same day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi slammed it for not sending the list of all farmers in the state eligible to receive the Rs 6,000 annual payment under the Centre’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme. Farmers selling wheat to government agencies and even to private traders in regulated mandis are supposed to get the MP government’s Rs 160/quintal bonus.
A Rs 100/quintal bonus on wheat was first granted by the Chouhan government for the 2007-08 crop and enhanced to Rs 150 in 2012-13. It helped boost wheat production and also turn MP into the biggest contributor to the Central pool after Punjab. But following the June 2014 MCAFPD order — ironically issued by the new BJP-led dispensation at the Centre — MP had to discontinue the bonus, before restoring it for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 crops.
“The state government is clearly not keen to pay the bonus and trying to blame the Centre. Nothing stops them from paying it separately or under a different name,” alleged Rambharose Basotiya of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a farmer organisation affiliated to the BJP’s ideological parent, RSS.