Jharkhand paddy scheme put on hold, farmers may not get MSP promised in budget

The Jharkhand government may not purchase paddy at the minimum support price (MSP) of Rs2,500 per quintal from the farmers this fiscal as it promised in its budget this year, two people aware of the matter said. The Dhaan Utpadan Evam Bazar Sulabhata scheme for the purpose has been put on hold for a review. The scheme was one of the major poll promises of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal ahead of the 2019 election apart from the farm loan waiver.

State agriculture minister Badal Patralekh said they are reviewing the scheme as they found the maximum benefit of it could go to middlemen if it was implemented without proper homework.

Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren allocated Rs200 crore for the scheme in the budget.

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Patralekh said he visited villages across the state along with finance minister Rameshwar Oraon and spoke to farmers to understand the status of paddy procurement. “…we found middlemen purchased the paddy from farmers at Rs1,300 per quintal and sold it at government procurement centres at Rs2,000 per quintal [Central MSP plus state bonus]. This way, the traders took away the benefit of MSP and bonus, while actual beneficiaries remained deprived.”

He said merely 57,000 people sold paddy at government procurement centres during previous fiscal and most of them were traders. “If the scheme is launched without proper study, the money will not go to actual beneficiaries and traders will grab the maximum benefit,” he said. “A committee has been set up, which would review and suggest ways how to implement it so that the benefit could go to actual beneficiaries.”

Patralekh said farmers should not worry as the government is committed to implementing the scheme. “But we have to strengthen the delivery mechanism first.”

The paddy procurement in Jharkhand generally begins from December 1 but the government is planning to begin it in November in view of a bumper harvest. Jharkhand reported a record paddy sowing of 97.12% of the total target this year after facing two consecutive drought years.

Food and public distribution department director Binit Tirkey said they are planning to begin the procurement from this month. “A proposal in this regard will soon be sent to Cabinet for approval.” He refrained from divulging the bonus amount from the state to be added to the Centre’s MSP.

The Centre has increased MSP for paddy to Rs1,868 per quintal from Rs1,815 last year. Paddy was procured at Rs2,000 per quintal in Jharkhand. This included Rs185 bonus provided by the state government last fiscal.

But the MSP failed to attract the farmers as most of them sold their produce to private parties at lower prices for cash.

Kapildeo Kumar, a paddy farmer from Palamu district, said the government purchases paddy only from the registered farmers but its payment system is very poor. “The money is not given in form of cash. It is credited to bank accounts, which takes at least 15-20 days.” He said if the government wants to make paddy procurement popular, it has to ensure same day payment system.

Tirkey claimed all pending dues have been cleared.

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said no promise made to farmers has been fulfilled. “The government promised Rs2,500 MSP for paddy and waiver of loans. The government has taken U-turn on these promises. It has added to woes and withdrawn the BJP government’s Mukhya Mantri Krishi Ashirwad Yojana, which ensured financial assistance of Rs5,000 per acre up to five acres,” said BJP spokesman Prataul Shahdeo.

Officials said funds shortage due to Covid-19 period is also one of the main reasons for the delay in implementing the scheme.

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