Calcutta, Oct. 9: The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to procure 14 lakh tonnes of rice directly from farmers in 2012-13, an increase of 5 lakh tonnes over last year to ensure more of them get the minimum support price in the run-up to the panchayat polls.
“This year, we will procure 22 lakh tonnes of rice. We have set a target of procuring 14 lakh tonnes directly from the farmers,” said Jyotipriya Mullick, the state food and supplies minister. “We feel that more farmers should get the minimum support price for their produce.”
Last year, only 9 lakh tonnes were procured directly from the farmers. Another 11 lakh tonnes were bought from rice mills. Officials said the rice mills seldom paid the minimum support price to the farmers.
Last year, the minimum support price for paddy was Rs 1,080 per quintal. This year, the Centre has raised it to Rs 1,250 a quintal.
“If the government does not procure rice directly from the farmers, they have no option but to go to the rice mills. Most rice mills exploit the farmers by paying them less than the minimum support price,” an official said.
A senior Trinamul minister said that last year, the government received several complaints that farmers were forced to resort to distress sale because of failure to get remunerative price for their produce.
“As the panchayat polls draw closer, the state government has to ensure minimum support price for the maximum number of farmers to keep its support base intact. We have to win as many seats as we can in the rural polls,” the minister said.
Mullick said direct procurement would not be a problem as the state government had secured a loan of Rs 300 crore from Nabard. “Unlike last year, when we had faced a funds crunch just before beginning procurement, this year we have already secured a loan of Rs 300 crore from Nabard. The entire fund will be used to procure paddy,” he said.
Senior officials of the food and supplies department said Nabard would give the money to the West Bengal State Cooperative Bank and societies such as Benfed, Confed and the Essential Commodities Supply Corporation (ECSC).
“I am confident that procurement can be started in November. Farmers will not face any problem in selling their produce as Benfed, Confed and ECSC will set up procurement camps even in remote areas,” Mullick said.
Now, the state uses its own funds to procure rice and the Centre reimburses it.
Mullick said he had written to the Centre requesting for a “bonus” of Rs 100 per quintal to Bengal farmers over and above the minimum support price.
“The farmers here have faced hardships this year because of lack of rainfall in the sowing season. I have urged the Centre to give a bonus of Rs 100 per quintal to compensate them. The state does not have money to give bonus to the farmers.”