It is being called a “bid to end the minimum support price”: The Food Corporation of India has revised the specifications for foodgrain procurement, making the rules tighter by introducing changes in quality control – as suggested by “some private players”.
The proposals include reducing the limit of moisture content in wheat from 14 per cent to 12 per cent, reducing incorporated semi-damaged grains in procured grains from 4 per cent to 2 per cent, reducing foreign matter from 0.75 per cent to 0.50 per cent, and reducing the prevalence of shrivelled and broken grains from 6 to 4 per cent.
For paddy purchase, too, the specifications have been changed and strict quality control proposed with a reduction in moisture content (17 to 16 per cent); reduction in permissible foreign matter; a 2 per cent reduction in permissible limit of damaged and discoloured grains, among others.
The proposals, for uniform specifications of foodgrain for procurement under the central pool, also mention that from now on there can be no prevalence of another foodgrain in wheat (generally during storage, other grains tend to get mixed) against 2 per cent allowed to date; no weeviled grains will be purchased and grains have to be purchased by the Centre with zero live infestation.
Though apparently the Centre’s insistence on stricter quality control norms is targeted at ensuring good quality purchase for public distribution and for ensuring its export worthiness, the move is being seen by farmers as yet another attack on the MSP and benefitting private players.
“Wheat is normally harvested at a moisture content of 30 per cent. The traditional methods we use for drying grain rely on natural air movement and sunlight to reduce the moisture content to a safe level for storage. But it never comes down to 14 per cent. It’s usually 17-18 per cent every year. The wheat crop is harvested in March and we have to sell it in April. There is not enough time to lower the moisture content to [even] 14 per cent,” said Satyawan Lather, a farmer in Haryana.
Jaidev Bansal, a middleman in Haryana, accepted the problem of high moisture in the grains. He said: “The moisture content is a problem. Most of the wheat brought to the market has moisture content ranging from 15 per cent to 22 per cent every year, which is very high and simply needs to dry up by thinning in the grain market.”
Lather added: “While the MSP of wheat is nearly ₹2,000 per quintal, due to high moisture content we only get ₹1,500-₹1,700. The moisture content needs to be 14 per cent but we are not able to attain that. Now it is set at 12 per cent. This is not feasible.”
“Even if we attain 12 per cent moisture content, the wheat will weigh 340 kilograms less per acre. For example, if we get 25 quintals of wheat per acre, it weighs 25 quintals at 20 per cent moisture. At 17 per cent moisture it weighs nearly 22 quintals. At 14 per cent, which was accepted till now, it weighs nearly 20 quintals but at 12 per cent, it will weigh only 16-17 quintals,” Lather explained.
Gurnam Singh Chaduni, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union Haryana, called it a “double-edged sword” for the farmers. “If they fail to attain 12 per cent of moisture content, the FCI will either not buy their crops or buy it at not more than ₹1,200 per quintal citing high moisture content. Even for 17 per cent moisture, from which they were earlier getting ₹1,500-₹1,600, now they will get only ₹1,200 as the moisture level is reduced.”
“Another thing is that if the farmers successfully attain 12 per cent moisture, the wheat will weigh 340 kg less per acre. That means ₹20 per kg loss and ₹6,800 per acre loss. Also, the moisture content has been decreased but the MSP is the same. There is no doubt now that this government wants to end MSP and give the farmers to the private players.”
Chaduni said now that the government will pay ₹1,200 as MSP, private players need to pay only ₹1,300 to buy the produce from farmers. “We were demanding a law on MSP. Now the government will agree to make a law on MSP to show the public and media that they want farmers to benefit. But they will not tell anyone that they have hollowed the MSP system entirely.”
Recently the FCI stopped procuring rice for the millers. The mills have been forced to abruptly halt the milling of custom milled rice (CMR) after the FCI issued a letter saying it will not accept the CMR after February 28 and take only fortified rice.
The milling units in the country do not have mechanised blending machines to prepare fortified rice. Even if they were to order these blending machines now, it would take several weeks before the machines can be procured and used by the units.
The Centre had also issued instructions making it mandatory for all farmers to give details of land ownership to get MSP for wheat. This, too, has generated heat among farmers as almost 50 per cent of landholdings are leased out by farmers to other cultivators.
“The FCI is seeking land records to set up direct banking transfer of the price for procured grain, knowing fully well that the actual cultivators in many cases are different from the landowners,” the Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) said.
“The SKM considers these moves by the FCI as an attack on the ongoing movement, and on Punjab, which is at the forefront of the struggle. Punjab and Haryana farmers will resist these moves by FCI very strongly and will chalk out a strategy for the same,” the SKM said.
Punjab Food and Supply Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu told the media that this all was an indication that the FCI wanted to avoid purchasing grains. “The FCI has been slowly reducing grain purchases over the past few years. I will meet the Union food minister this week to resolve these issues,” he said.
A Haryana Food Supply officer told The Federal on condition of anonymity: “The government is systematically weakening the FCI and APMCs. Even in Haryana, the government has put pressure on officers to resign, due to which many have resigned and others have transferred. The government does not want to continue with the system of MSP and APMC. The government will end all these things and farmers will be left at the mercy of private players.”