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Paddy bonus demand stalls highway traffic

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 4: Traffic was disrupted on highways across 10 districts of western Odisha today because of a series of road blockades launched by farmers, who demanded payment of bonus on paddy at Rs 300 per quintal.

In the Assembly, the Odisha government today rejected the demand for bonus, while the Congress staged a walkout in protest against the government’s alleged apathy towards the farmers.

Opposition members alleged that the farmers of Odisha were passing through a difficult time because of government apathy. Farmers were being forced to commit suicide as they were not getting proper price for their produce, which would have helped them repay loans, they alleged, adding that there were instances of distressed paddy sale in the state, they alleged.

Senior Congress legislator from Balangir Santosh Singh Saluja said the farmers had been forced to sell their produce at throwaway prices as the government agencies were refusing to buy paddy from them. “The government’s assurance that paddy purchase centres would be opened in adequate number this year turned out to be a false promise. This has angered farmers across the state, who have taken to streets,” he said.

The minimum support price for standard paddy has been fixed at Rs 1,080 per quintal. However, the farmers have been compelled to sell paddy at Rs 800 per quintal, said a member of the Opposition.

The Opposition members demanded that the Odisha government should pay bonus over and above the minimum support price following the examples of neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

Refuting the Opposition allegation, however, Odisha food supplies and consumer welfare minister Pratap Keshari Deb said the quantum of procurement of rice had gone up from 13.75 lakh metric tonnes in 2003-04 to 28.90 lakh metric tonnes in 2011-12 because of the government’s pro-active policy.

Till date, 405 mandis (paddy purchase centres) have been opened in 12 districts. The government plans to open 3,000 such centres, said Deb.

Rejecting the demand for bonus to farmers, he said: “If our government pays bonus on paddy purchase, paddy from neighbouring states will flood our paddy purchase centres, putting our farmers in difficulty. The central government should consider paying the bonus.”

On October 31, thousands of farmers under the aegis of Paschim Odisha Krushak Sangathan Samanwaya Samiti had staged a demonstration before the office of the revenue divisional commissioner (northern division) in Sambalpur and handed over to him a list of demands, including payment of bonus on paddy, addressed to the chief minister.