The West Bengal government's Agriculture Department has managed to procure only 22% of the rice they had promised to procure from the cultivators across the state till now. The farmers in the state are refusing to sell their produce to the government because of various flaws in the process of procurement.
Earlier in November 2018, the West Bengal government had announced that during the current season, it would buy 52 lakh metric tons of paddy from the farmers in the state. Out of these 52 lakh metric tons, 24 lakh metric tons were to be procured by the government directly from the farmers, through Central Purchase Centres (CPCs), while the remaining 28 lakh metric tons were to be procured from cooperatives like National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED),
West Bengal State Cooperative Marketing Federation Ltd. (BENFED), and West Bengal State Consumer Cooperative Federation (CONFED). The minimum support price (MSP) was fixed at Rs 1,815 per quintal.
Paddy is procured from the farmers with the help of the state government's Krishak Bandhu scheme. The farmers registered under the scheme can easily sell their produce to the government. However, most of the cultivators in the state are not registered under the scheme. Therefore, to avail the benefits from the government, these farmers have to first go through the long process of registering themselves, and only then will they be able to sell their produce for the MSP. Apart from that, the government does not pay the farmers in cash. They have to collect cheques from the centres, and then deposit them in their respective banks. This leads to wastage of valuable time and resources for them, which is why the farmers are reluctant about selling their produce to the government.
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As a result, the state government has been able to procure only 22% of the 24 lakh metric tons of rice that they were supposed to buy directly from the farmers. In 2018, by the end of December, the state government had managed to procure 12 lakh metric tons of paddy. In 2019, the amount was only one lakh metric tons.
Amal Halder, West Bengal state general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), told NewsClick, "Kerala government bought paddy from the farmers at Rs 2,600 per quintal. On the other hand, the West Bengal government does not give the farmers enough money, does not pay them in cash, and there are not even enough centres across the state. As a result, the farmers are being forced to sell their produce in markets at much lower prices."
Purba Bardhaman district in West Bengal has the highest number of farmers in the state. However, in the district, only 55,000 farmers have registered for selling their produce to the state government. One lakh metric ton of rice has been procured until now. Similarly, in Hooghly, another district with a large number of paddy cultivators, only 38,00 farmers have registered, and only 50,000 metric tons of rice had been procured.
Saiyyad Hossain, a farmer from Purba Bardhaman, told NewsClick, "The farmers have to face a lot issues when they go to sell their produce at the government centres. First, it takes two days to register for the Krishak Bandhu scheme. Then, the farmer has to find a centre and go there to sell their produce. Then, they have to go again to collect their cheques. This long process leads to a lot of issues, and we would rather sell our produce in the market at lower process. The government needs to make this process more convenient for us."
Before the procurement process started, AIKS had given deputation to the government listing these problems. The state government, however, did not take this into consideration. Hossain added, "In the market, the price of one quintal of rice goes up to Rs 1,300. The farmers, because of the indifference of the government, are losing Rs 500 per quintal, which is a large amount of money."
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