Patna: At a time when farmers are protesting against the three Farm Laws at Delhi’s borders, paddy growers in Bihar are unhappy as government agencies have only procured about 40% of the target of 45 lakh tonnes so far. With barely ten days left for paddy procurement officially till January 31 this year, small, marginal and big farmers are being forced into distress sales.
According to official data from the Cooperative Department, state government agencies have procured 17,20,380.100 lakh tonnes of paddy from farmers till January 21. Nearly 2.5 lakh paddy farmers had been registered for the process.
Slow paddy procurement by government agencies have left the farmers worried since the state has reduced the duration of the procurement period. While procurement used to happen till March 31 earlier, it will be wound up by the end of this month this year. “Usually, the paddy procurement lasts till March but this year the government has fixed procurement till the end of January end. This is bound to affect us,” said Kamlesh Singh, a farmer who hails from Bihta block in Patna district.
Most of the farmers fail to understand the government’s decision to reduce the procurement period. In December 2020 the government announced that it would procure paddy as usual but later issued a notice stating that paddy would be procured till January 31. This was the first such deadline for paddy procurement.
Bihar Agriculture Minister Amrendra Pratap Singh said the decision was taken to expedite the process to ensure the farmers got the minimum support price (MSP). “The government’s intention was to help the farmers,” he said. However, when asked to comment on the fact that more than two-thirds of paddy is officially procured after January – primarily in February and March – he kept mum.
Balmiki Sharma, another farmer from Paliganj block in Patna, said that hardly 30% to 40 % of the paddy was procured by the government from farmers in Paliganj so far. He added that procurement of the rest was not possible in the next ten days. “It is not possible and it will be a big challenge for the government to even come close to the procurement target,” he added.
Farmers have been left with no other option but to sell the paddy to traders in the open market between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,300 per quintal. “It is happening despite the fact that the government has fixed the MSP of paddy at Rs 1,888,” he added.
Sharma, also the secretary of the Paliganj Bitarni Krishak Samiti – a farmers’ organisation – demanded that the government extends the paddy procurement till February if not March-end. He mentioned that at least 15% of the farmers’ paddy was still in the field after being harvested and not ready for procurement.
In December, when Chief Minister Nitish Kumar increased the limit of paddy procurement and the total procurement target from 30 lakh tonnes to 45 lakh tonnes in the state, the farmers were hopeful. “But the strong nexus of middlemen and officials resulted in failure on the ground,” Sharma added.
Sharma’s sentiments were echoed by Anand Kumar, a farmer leader from Bihta. “The government should extend the paddy procurement date to March to ensure farmers get MSP,” he said.
According to officials from the agriculture department, two “special” campaigns were launched to procure paddy from farmers and ensure they got MSP following a directive by the Chief Minister. The first campaign was held between December 29 and 31 while the second was between January 7 and 9. However, procurement has still been slow.
In Bihar, Primary Agriculture Cooperative Societies (PACS) and Vyapar Mandals have been engaged to procure paddy directly from farmers in each panchayat. It has been done to ensure that farmers get fair and remunerative prices for their crops.
The process for paddy procurement, which begins on November 15 in the state, was delayed due to the state assembly polls. It formally began in the first week of December.
An official of the state cooperative department had admitted that paddy procurement was slow.
In the last Kharif season (2019-20), Bihar managed to procure nearly 20 lakh metric tonnes of paddy from 2.50 lakh farmers after the procurement deadline was extended from March 31 to April 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the year prior to that, government agencies had procured 14.16 lakh metric tonnes of paddy from 2.10 lakh farmers against a target of 30 lakh metric tonnes.
The CM’s claims that farmers have been getting the MSP is also untrue. Ironically, while repeatedly stating what the Centre is attempting to do through the three Farm Laws, his government had already done the same 14 years ago in Bihar.The first NDA government led by him scrapped Bihar’s Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act in 2006.
Back then, it was claimed that this would benefit farmers: they would get good prices for produce and it would attract huge private investment in agricultural infrastructure.
Bihar has also recorded lower volume of wheat procurement by the government at MSP last year. As per official figures, only 0.05 lakh tonnes (LT) of wheat were procured in Bihar in the Rabi marketing season of 2020-21, against the revised target of seven LT. In 2019-20, state agencies procured 0.03 LT of wheat.
According to government data, nearly two-third of Bihar’s total population of 12 crores is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Most of them are small and marginal farmers. Moreover, nearly two-third of all agricultural activities in the state are dependent on rainfall.
Agriculture is the backbone of Bihar’s economy, employing 81% of the workforce and generating nearly 42% of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the state government’s figures.