Amid mass farmer agitations in Punjab and Haryana, the Centre has advanced kharif paddy procurement, allowing operations to begin on Saturday, September 26, instead of the scheduled date of October 1.
According to the Food Ministry, the change is due to the early arrival of paddy in these States. Both states have announced that procurement will begin from Sunday.
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Punjab and Haryana have been the hotspots of farmer protests against three controversial new Bills successfully piloted through Parliament by the government during the monsoon session to enable agriculture market reform. However, farmers fear that the new legislation will dismantle the government’s procurement system and the minimum support prices (MSP) by undermining the network of notified mandis.
“Paddy/rice procurement for the Kharif Marketing Season (KMS) 2020-2021 has already been scheduled in all the States from October 1, 2020 and all procurement agencies including Food Corporation of India (FCI) have already been prepared to complete the procurement program smoothly,” said a statement from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.
“However, in view of the earlier arrival of paddy in the mandis of Haryana and Punjab, the Government of India has issued orders to start the paddy procurement program in these two states from today i.e. 26 September, 2020. The aim is to provide the facility to farmers to sell their produce at the minimum support price (MSP),” the statement said.
“They are announcing this early procurement to try and stop our andolan [protest]. We understand that this is the purpose. But farmers will not be distracted,” said Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) secretary general Yudhvir Singh. “Anyway, there is a staggered rota system [in the mandis] now. Those who have early harvest will go and sell while the others continue the protest. They will take in turns to ensure that the struggle goes on.”
The Centre had also announced MSP rates for the rabi season crop unusually early this year, in what was seen as a bid to reassure protesting farmers that MSP will continue.
However, the announcement has not appeased the farmers. “The MSP for wheat saw the lowest increase in the last ten years. Farmers have seen it as an insult, and an indication that the Central government is not even listening to their concerns at this time. The Centre will not escape the backlash,” said Haryana-based farmer activist Ramandeep Singh Mann.
The Haryana government has announced that procurement of the PR-126 variety of paddy will start from September 27. This variety has already been harvested by farmers in Kurukshetra, Karnal, Ambala and Kaithal, and about four lakh quintals of paddy have arrived in the mandis of these four districts, according to P.K. Das, Additional Chief Secretary, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department. The State’s e-Kharid portal will also start functioning from September 29, he added.
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Punjab’s procurement season will run from September 27 to November 30. At a review meeting on Saturday, Punjab chief secretary Vini Mahajan “directed the concerned departments to ensure social distancing to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and that procurement be made in a staggered manner as farmers will enter the mandis with passes issued to them 72 hours in advance and only one trolley will be allowed on one pass. Mandi yards have been marked with 30ft X 30ft blocks to maintain the social distance,” an official statement said.