In total, the Central government plans to purchase around 40.7 million tonnes of wheat from farmers this year, which is almost 19 per cent more than the procurementlast year. More than 80 per cent of the rabi cereal crops, of which wheat is one of the biggest, has already been harvested, according to the government.
Wheat procurement started on April 15 in Punjab, the biggest contributor to the Central pool from that day till date. Around 4.82 million tonnes of wheat have been procured by state and central agencies, which is almost 15 per cent more than the same period last year.
The state has so far issued 710,000 passes to farmers to sell in over designated 4,000 purchase centres, several of which have been made by converting rice mills into temporary purchase centres.
“Though the state government claims that procurement is happening smoothly, in several places farmers are facing an acute shortage of jute bags to pack the wheat and transport it,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, head of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Rajewal faction).
He said payments owed to several farmers have still not reached them, while the state government had promised that MSP will be credited quickly into their bank accounts.
The weather is also playing truant, due to which wheat brought by the farmers to the mandis has shriveled, leading to loss in value.
The Punjab government, meanwhile, has set up a high-powered team of officials who will visit the main mandis where procurement is on, to check implementation of curfew pass system, village-wise arrivals, quality of wheat procured and compliance with all Covid-19 social distancing guidelines.
Haryana procured 1.90 million tonnes of wheat till Sunday, almost the same as the correspomding period last year.
Procurement started on April 20 in the state, a delay of almost 10 days, as most mandis were closed due to the lockdown. Apart from wheat, the state has also procured over 240,000 tonnes of mustard in the past few days.
However, farmers complained that the state government’s order to allow entry of only 100 tractor trolleys a day in each mandi is slowing procurement and leading to commotion in some places.
“In bigger mandis, which have more than 400 commission agents, the 100-trolley rule is making them sit idle as one agent then has to sell one trolley in four days while in smaller mandis, this rule is leading to commotion and there isn’t enough space to bring the tractors,” said Gurnam Singh Chaduni, a prominent farmer leader from the state.
He said the state government is simultaneously procuring rice from farmers which is exacerbating the acute labour shortage in mandis.
“Earlier, rice procurement was stopped between April 10 and May 10 as that was the peak purchase season for wheat. But this time, the government is continuing with rice procurement along with wheat, creating a huge demand on the already scarce labour,” Chaduni said.
In Madhya Pradesh, though the state government claims it has managed to purchase more wheat in the first 11 days of procurement this year, than it did in the first 21 days last year, farmers complained that in several mandis the mobile Short-Messaging System (SMS) wasn’t working properly. As a result, they were compelled to stand in queue for hours to sell their wheat.
So far, in MP, the government has purchased over 1.68 million tonnes of wheat in the first 11 days. The state has a unique SMS system wherein only those farmers who get the SMS will have to come with their wheat to sell at the designated Mandi at the fixed date and time mentioned.
State officials claimed that in the first two days, just 6 SMSs was sent out for each of the over 4300 purchase Centres, which was gradually scaled up so that social distancing norms are followed while farmers are not required to hold on to their produce for long.
“IN some Mandis, procurement is going on smoothly, while in some there have been complaints of farmers getting multiple SMS leading to some of them being sent back by Mandi officials or being asked to wait in long queues,” said Bhagwan Meena, General Secretary of Kisan Swaraj Sangathan, a farmers organisation.
Meena said the unseasonal rains too has increased the moisture content in wheat in some places which is why farmers are getting low price. “A more pertinent problem is crop loan dues from previous years are being adjusted with wheat payment due to which many farmers aren’t getting their full payment,” he said.
In UP, the state government has just started procurement and so far according to FCI, has purchased 0.36 million tonnes of wheat from farmers. “More than procurement, we are worried about the weather which has suddenly become unfavourable in North India and if it rains heavily in the coming days we will be at huge loss,” said Dharmendra, another leader of the Bhartiya Kisan Union.