Telangana: Congress and BRS lock horns over paddy procurement, farmers remain at the mercy of elements

Even as the two political parties have been indulging in a slugfest the farmers have been left to the mercy of the elements.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published May 31, 2024 | 2:00 PM Updated May 31, 2024 | 2:00 PM

Paddy procurement in Telangana

After being defeated in the last Assembly elections, the BRS in Telangana is trying to exploit the situation with vengeance every time the Congress slips up in keeping its promise. The latest is the slow pace of paddy procurement at the procurement centres in the state.

The issue is taking a murky turn, with the BRS going for the Congress’ jugular. The attack became intense after the cabinet took a decision a few days ago to restrict payment of 500 as a bonus over the Minimum Support Price (MSP) per quintal of paddy procured, to the fine variety, leaving the coarse variety out which is grown extensively in Telangana, particularly during rabi.

The MSP for paddy for the 2023-24 marketing season per quintal is 2,183 (common) and 2,203 (Grade A).

There is a method to the political calculations of both parties. In Telangana, the paddy grown in rabi is mainly the coarse variety. As the bonus on MRP announced by the state does not cover the coarse variety of paddy, the BRS smelt an opportunity. Without losing any time, it pounced on Congress, accusing it of reneging on its promise of bonus payment to paddy of both the fine and coarse varieties.

Though the bonus decision applies to fine rice for the kharif produce and the government was procuring only the rabi paddy at present, the BRS took up cudgels.

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Congress’s plan

As far as the Congress is concerned, the announcement of a bonus of 500 for fine variety from kharif season gives it not only a breather in coming up with funds to finance the bonus payment but also spares it from having to cover the coarse variety.

Farmers in Telangana grow a fine variety of paddy during the Kharif season. When Kharif arrivals reach the procurement centres, most of the produce would be fine variety.

The farmers would get 500 per quintal bonus on their produce without any problem. As farmers would be happy with the bonus, the BRS would have no issue to rake up.

As it is rabi paddy procurement time now, the BRS is trying to hit the state government where it hurts most.

Apart from slamming it for the slow pace of procurement, the pink party is now on a collision course with the government for not covering the rabi crop under bonus.

It is also demanding that the government should procure paddy that had been damaged due to the unseasonal rains that had lately been lashing parts of the state.

Paddy lifting and rice procurement scam

This apart, BRS working president KT Rama Rao has accused the Congress Government of resorting to an alleged 1000 crore paddy lifting and rice procurement scam and dared Chief Minister Revanth Reddy and Minister Uttam Kumar Reddy to order a judicial inquiry with a sitting judge.

One part of the scam, according to him, was in calling global tenders for selling 35 lakh tonnes of paddy and the second part was in procuring 2.2 lakh tonnes of fine variety of rice for supply to schools for mid-day meal scheme among others.

The Congress hit back at the BRS saying the allegations were baseless and that the pink party was making allegations out of spite.

Even as the two political parties have been indulging in a slugfest, the farmers have been left to the mercy of the elements. There have been unseasonal rains in several parts of the state lately, damaging paddy brought to the paddy procurement centres.

As the unprocured paddy was without any protection, water seeped inside, changing its colour.

Though there have been assurances that the discoloured paddy would be procured, it would be of no use to the government because it cannot sell it to the FCI which has stringent conditions on moisture content.

As the paddy had become discoloured and in some parts of the state, they had already begun germinating, the farmers were worried about what would happen to their produce.

The government, after procuring the paddy, would have to throw it away, incurring the loss.

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Problems with rabi paddy

As far as rabi paddy is concerned, most of it is coarse variety which is again not “palatable” to the FCI as there are no takers for the rice anywhere in the country.

But 80 percent of the paddy is of this variety and getting rid of the paddy after procurement is a major problem for the state government.

The previous BRS government tried to sell the rabi paddy to the FCI but could not succeed even though it made presentations to the Union ministers.

The farmers do not go in for fine variety as the yield of fine rice from paddy is less compared to the coarse rice.

At the time of milling, the rice gets broken, reducing the yield of the fine variety of rice and as a result, the farmers get less.

Civil Supplies Commissioner DS Chouhan, speaking to reporters a few days ago, said that the civil supplies corporation would procure wet, discoloured and even germinating paddy, no questions asked.

“We try to salvage whatever is possible from the damaged paddy and bear the loss for the remaining part. But the farmer gets MSP,” he said.

He also disputed the claim that that procurement has slowed down. “We opened 7,421 procurement centres as early as March, unlike last year when they became operational only in April. We are paying farmers money in two or at the most three days,” he said and pointed out that the entire process of procurement and payment to farmers had never been so smooth.

Also Read: Telangana CM says India should emulate Kerala in keeping communal forces away

Coarse vs fine variety of rice

As the coarse variety of rice problem is becoming too big, the state government is trying to encourage the farmers to switch to fine variety since the coarse paddy reserves are piling up. As there is a shortage in the supply of fine variety, its price is going up in the market.

The state government is contemplating compensating farmers who switch over to the fine variety as the rice yield would be less compared to the coarse variety.

The government has also made it clear that it had decided to supply fine variety through ration shop dealers.

At present, the coarse variety rice supplied through ration cards is sold away to roadside restaurants by the ration card holder who gets to make a quick buck as the subsidy rice is almost free.

Even ethanol plants are of no use to farmers who raise the coarse variety of paddy. There is only one ethanol plant working in the state, which is in Chittanur in Narayanpet district.

The ethanol plants do not need rice from the farmers as they get it dead cheap at about 20 per kg from the FCI.

Those who set up ethanol plants seek rice at this rate but no farmer would sell his produce at this rate after investing so much money in it. The farmers are not bothered about ethanol plant owners and vice-versa.

Rythu Swarajya Vedika state committee member Kanneganti Ravi says that farmers should switch over to pulses, oil seeds or millets intending to raise paddy in rabi. In several states, farmers are not sowing paddy in rabi as the cost of production is high and returns are low.

The farmers would have to draw water using borewells during rabi. Though the power supply is free, the government has to foot the bill, which again is people’s money. Then the rabi paddy would deplete underground water. In Telangana, water is expensive and it should be used sparingly for crops that use less water than water-intensive paddy crops.

“Even NABARD echoed our opinion when it said that Telangana should cut down on paddy production to save on not only precious water resources but also benefit economically. They can do it by switching over to irrigated dry crops. “But both the rulers and the farmers are obsessed with paddy. Farmers reduce paddy several times more than what is needed for the state. We are raising paddy in about one crore acres in both seasons kharif and rabi put together. If farmers confine themselves to producing the fine variety of paddy in kharif, it would help them get a very good price. The produce would be just enough for the state’s needs. At present the fine variety of rice is fetching more than the MSP like 2,800 per quintal in some places as there is too much demand for it,” Ravi says.

(Edited by Neena)