In Punjab, govt-recommended paddy varieties being sold for prices below MSP, say farmers

In Gurdaspur and Batala mandis, several farmers say they have been forced to sell their recommended varieties at a price lower than the MSP due to arhtiyas and government agencies dubbing them as hybrid.

As Sukhdev Singh (name changed) from Pathankot went to sell his paddy PR 126 variety – developed and recommended for cultivation by the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), his arhtiya (commission agent) and the quality inspector of a government procurement agency told him that his produce will be procured at Rs 1,768 per quintal against the MSP of Rs 1,888 per quintal. The cut of Rs 120 per quintal on MSP, the farmer was told, was due to the variety being a ‘hybrid variety’, which is generally banned in Punjab. He was told that government agencies will purchase only government recommended varieties at full MSP.

As the farmer tried to convince them that PR 126 was recommended by the government and not hybrid, his pleas were ignored. Exasperated, he finally approached officials from the District Agriculture Department to intervene. It was only after department officials visited the mandi that the farmer was paid MSP for his crop.

Cases similar to this have also come to light from Gurdaspur and Batala mandis where several farmers say they have been forced to sell their recommended varieties at a price lower than the MSP due to arhtiyas and government agencies dubbing them as hybrid.

At Jalandhar grain markets, several farmers have been alleging that despite their paddy being ‘Grade A’ quality, they are being forced to sell their crops at Rs 1,700 to 1,800 per quintal on the pretext of high moisture content due to connivance of government agencies, rice sheller owners and arhtiyas.

Most of them said that they are facing a minimum cut of Rs 100 to 150 per quintal.

As per government recommendation, there is no cut in the MSP if the moisture level is up to 17 per cent in the harvested crop.

In fact, this time because of no rain in September, the moisture content in the crop is even below the recommended limit, said the officials in the Punjab Mandi Board (PMB) department.

But as per data sourced from Punjab Mandi Board (PMB), the selling rate of paddy in mandis is below Rs 1,888 per quintal.

“Though we fill ‘J form’, which keeps the record of crop sold by farmers to the government agency, but the majority of this ‘J forms’ remain in the custody of ahrtiyas, and farmers are not aware that their crop is sold at what price to the government in actual as we get only a ‘kucha slip’ without any sign on it from arhtiyas who make our payment after getting money from the government,” said farmer Harjowan Singh, who sold his 200 quintals paddy at the rate of Rs 1,780 per quintal as told by arhtiya to him.

Block Agriculture Officer, Pathankot, Dr Amrik Singh, told The Indian Express: “I was surprised when the farmer approached me and said that PR 126 is being considered as ‘hybrid’ variety by the arhtiya, rice shellers and procurement agency, who are well aware of it being sown on a large area for the past 4 years in Punjab. We went to mandi to argue the farmer’s case to get full MSP”.

He added: “Our department has been issuing statements and making farmers aware on WhatsApp groups that if they are getting below MSP for their PR 121, PR, 126, 122, 124, 128, 129 and HKR 47, in the name of hybrid variety then they should immediately inform us,” he said, adding that such cases are there across mandis.

“But majority farmers are blindly dependent on the arhtiyas and facing the losses on the name of paddy varieties, moisture level etc.,” he said, adding that farmers need to be little aware about such wrong practices.

“When Punjab is supposed to procure over 16 million tonnes (160 lakh tonnes) paddy, one can imagine the scale of loss to farmers if they even face Rs 50 to Rs 100 cut for their Grade ‘A’ crop,” said another senior Agriculture Department officer, adding that when a farmer is irrigating his crop for months he should be firm on not selling his crop below MSP if his crop falls under government’s specifications.

To avoid such non-transparent system of payment, the Centre government wanted to transfer the money directly in the accounts of farmers, but arhtiya lobby did not let it happen in Punjab.

“We do not have much staff and have to depend on millers, commission agents, and procurement agencies, and the majority of them are indulging in harassment of farmers, who sell their crop at Rs 50 to 100 per quintal below MSP to avoid any harassment,” said one of the senior officers in the Food and Civil Supply department, requesting anonymity.

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