The Bengal government has decided to focus on procuring a large quantum of paddy within one month as it apprehends a possible shortfall in rice required for its scheme to provide cheap grain if fresh stock is not stored at the earliest.
Figures of the food and supplies department show that the state needs around 3 lakh tonnes of rice every month to run the cheap grain scheme through rations shops.
“Right now, the state has 3.15 lakh tonnes of rice in its stock. With the existing stock, the cheap grain scheme can run for another month. So, the maximum quantum of paddy has to be procured within the next few days to keep the scheme running,” said a senior government official.
Sources in the state government said the procurement season had started in October.
“But central agencies, including the FCI, are lagging behind the procurement target. As the state wants to ensure that all beneficiaries get cheap rice grain on time, it will lay stress on procuring more paddy within the next few months,” said a source.
The state has a target of procuring 52 lakh tonnes of paddy in the 2022-23 financial year. “The central agencies procure 10 to 15 per cent paddy of the target. But the problem is that the central agencies were not active in procuring paddy according to their target,” said a source.
In Bengal, nearly nine crore people get the facility of cheap grain rice. About 6.1 crore people are covered under the Centre’s National Food Security Act and the rest by the state’s own Khadya Sathi scheme.
According to figures available with the food and supplies department, the state has so far procured 4.5 lakh tonnes of paddy. If the paddy is converted into rice, about 3 lakh tonnes of rice will be ready.
“Now, with this quantum of rice, the scheme could be run for another month (till January-end). This is why the state needs to procure as much paddy as possible within the next few months as paddy harvesting is on in full swing in the state,” said a source.
If the state can procure the maximum quantum of paddy within two months, it will help small and marginal farmers who face trouble storing their produce after harvesting.
“The problem is the state has only around 300 permanent procurement centres and farmers need to wait for their turn to sell their produce to the government. As small and marginal farmers cannot hold back their stock for months, they are forced to sell their produce to local traders at lower rates,” said a source.
An official said the state was likely to send more officers to procurement centres, engage more mobile procurement camps and bring more self-help groups to the system to give momentum to the procurement of paddy.