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Dharna to press for rice cash

Burdwan, Oct. 9: Nearly 150 farmers from 21 villagers in Burdwan today began an indefinite dharna in front of the Manteswar block development office complaining they were yet to receive cheques for the paddy they sold to a cooperative society six months ago.

The agitation began two days after a 70-year-old woman in Manteswar committed suicide, allegedly after her farmer sons quarrelled over the failure to get back her mortgaged gold chain as they did not receive the payment for the paddy they sold to the cooperative.

The secretary of the Trinamul-run Jamna Samabay Samiti, Bagbul Sheikh, said he could not make the payments unless he received Rs 51 lakh from the Essential Commodities Supply Corporation (ECSC), under the state food department.

“I appeal to the food and supplies minister, who hails from our district, to consider the plight of the farmers and release the money before the festive season,” Sheikh said.

Food minister Jyotipriya Mullick said: “The secretary of the cooperative society has informed us of the problem. We will issue cheques worth Rs 51 lakh to the society before the Pujas for the 5,480 quintals of rice the society supplied to us.”

An official of the food department in Burdwan said the delay in payments was because of paucity of funds.

The farmers gathered in front of the block office around 11am carrying posters and banners and shouted slogans.

Haradhan Karmakar, a farmer from Barondala village, said he had supplied 23 quintals of paddy to the co-operative in mid-March. “I was supposed to get Rs 25,000 for the produce. The co-operative had told me that I would get my cheque within a month. Almost seven months have passed and I am yet to get my money. I can’t repay the loans I had taken to buy pesticides, forget buying clothes for my family for the Pujas.”

Farmer Amitabha Mondal said only 131 of the 570 farmers who had sold paddy to the cooperative had got cheques.

Manteswar BDO Pradip Barui said the cooperative had “pleaded helplessness”. “I have brought it to the notice of higher authorities.”

The district controller of food and supplies, Shankar Narayan Bankra, said he was “aware” of the farmers’ problems. “I have spoken to the ECSC authorities. What else can I do? I feel helpless.”

Another cooperative in Manteswar, Krishi Unnayan Samabay Samiti, said it could not pay 186 farmers because it was yet to receive Rs 32 lakh from the ECSC.