Express News Service

CHANDIGARH: A confrontation is brewing in Punjab after the Centre, for the first time, capped paddy procurement from the state at 170 lakh metric tonnes. The Centre has also made it clear that it will not bear any responsibility for extra paddy arriving at the grain markets. The Centre has accused Punjab of procuring excess grain than what it produces and passing it to the Centre to avail of the MSP. But the state is pushing for a revised estimate of 190 lakh tonnes.

To check illegal flow of paddy, the state government has seized 10,000 bags of paddy and 5,000 bags of rice (7,260 quintals) which have come in the last few days from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal on bogus bills so that it could be procured at MSP. The state government has formed around 150 teams to stop the illegal flow besides sealing the borders at 94 points.

The Punjab Police has so far registered eight cases against 16 people for attempting to sell their produce in the state since the paddy procurement began from October 3. Additional DGP V Neeraja has been deputed to supervise the inter-state ‘nakas’ to prevent the unauthorised food grains and paddy from entering the state. Paddy from other states makes its way to Punjab every year and is sold at MSP.

Sources said traders buy paddy from UP, Bihar, MP and West Bengal. Including transport cost, it costs them around `1,200 per quintal and is sold in Punjab on the MSP at Rs 1,960 per quintal. A senior officer in Punjab Food and Civil Supplies Department alleged that big fish, including some MLAs of both ruling and opposition parties are involved in the illegal trade.

Punjab farmers may have to bear the brunt as their crop will not be picked for the central pool at MSP rates. As already 17.68 lakh MT of paddy has reached the various grain markets across the state.Punjab Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu said that the agriculture department has informed the Centre that it expects a bumper crop this year too and that the state has sent revised estimates of 190 lakh-tonne paddy. He also urged farmers to support the government in checking illegal flow of paddy. 

The contentious part is the Centre’s directive to Punjab to put a cap on per-acre yield of paddy. Farmers are strongly against the move. Under Central norms calling for integrating land records with grain procurement will be implemented for the first time in the state. Once the per-acre yield is fixed, the open-ended procurement policy of the Centre will come to an end under which the government buys every grain of wheat and rice brought by farmers.