Calcutta, Sept. 2: The state government has decided to procure potatoes worth Rs 60 lakh from cold storages in an attempt to bail out poor farmers in the season of a bumper crop but several officials said the move would benefit only middlemen.
Agriculture marketing minister Arup Roy today said: “It has been decided that nearly 6 lakh kilos of potatoes at Rs 10 a kilo will be procured and then distributed free of cost in Jungle Mahal schools for mid-day meals. Nearly 6 lakh students will be benefited.”
The government today issued a formal notification to this effect.
A section of officials in Roy’s department, however, doubted if the move would at all benefit poor farmers who lack the money to keep potatoes in cold storages.
“This is because small and marginal farmers have to repay loans, usually taken from local moneylenders. The middlemen use this opportunity to store potatoes after buying it from the farmers at a cheaper rate and thus they control the market,” a senior official said at Writers’.
Asked about this, the minister said: “It is not possible to ensure that only poor farmers’ potatoes are bought. We have launched the scheme to ensure that the state’s potatoes are not destroyed.”
Minister Roy justified the government’s decision, saying: “Despite exporting potatoes to different states, we still have around 33 lakh tonnes left in cold storages. Till the end of December, we will require another 18 lakh tonnes of potatoes. The remaining 15 lakh tonnes will have no buyer. We are trying to avoid such a situation.”
He added that more money could be allotted in the next few months to keep the scheme running.
Jitendra Ghosh, a farmer in Hooghly’s Dhaniakhali, said he had produced nearly 15 quintals of potatoes this year but was forced to sell it to some middlemen at Rs 3.5 a kilo in February.
“I could not store even a kilo of potatoes. Most of the farmers don’t have the money to store the potatoes and if the government buys potatoes from cold storages now, the middlemen would actually benefit,” Ghosh said.
Senior officials at Writers’ said the Left Front government had in 2010 procured potatoes worth Rs 400 crore from cold storages following a bumper production, but it was found that the move hardly helped the peasants.