Assembly debates distress sale of paddy, farmers on streets

Bhubaneswar: Coinciding with a four-hour bandh by farmers of 11 rice producing districts, the Odisha Assembly today held a marathon discussion on alleged distress sale of paddy leading to a walkout by opposition Congress member.
The House, which was virtually paralysed for five days over the Congress demand for a debate on the farmers issue, finally resumed business with Speaker P K Amat allowing an adjournment motion by it.
The House took about two hours to discuss the admissibility on the notice of the opposition which alleged large-scale distress sale of paddy due to non-opening of mandis.
During discussion, the opposition MLAs also demanded Rs 300 as bonus per quintal of paddy.
Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh of Congress criticised the state government for failing to open mandis in all districts forcing farmers to sell their produce at a throwaway price.
"While the minimum support price of paddy was fixed at Rs 1250 per quintal, farmers are forced to sell at Rs 800 per quintal. Middlemen are virtually taking opportunity from the government's inability to open required mandis," alleged Congress Chief Whip Prasad Harichandan.
Other Congress members including Santosh Singh Sajula and Subala Sahu held the state government responsible for the plight of farmers while BJP member J N Mishra criticised the 'faulty' procurement policy. 
Food and Supplies minister P K Deb rejected the opposition allegation claiming that the government had opened mandis in many districts but they were not opened in areas where farmers were yet to harvest crop.
Deb cited statistics on how the state government had been successfully increasing paddy procurement. While 13.75 lakh tonne of rice was procured in 2003-04, it rose to 28.90 lakh tonne in 2011-12.
The minister rejected the opposition demand for bonus on paddy.
"Opposition demand of bonus is simply a political gimmick. As the state is expecting a bumper crop this time, it is not possible to give bonus. We fear that paddy from neighbouring states will enter the state if the government announces bonus," Deb said.
He said though the state government had asked the Centre to increase the MSP of paddy from Rs 1250 per quintal to Rs 1400 per quintal, it was rejected. The Centre, on the other hand, was contemplating to increase the MSP for wheat.
"This is discrimination of the Centre towards the paddy producing states in eastern India," Deb said.
Unhappy over the minister's reply, the Congress members walked out of the house in protest.
Meanwhile, farmers in 11 districts of western Odisha observed a bandh during the day from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm on their 15-point charter of demands including Rs 300 bonus on each quintal of paddy.
The farmers of 11 districts under the banner of Paschima Odisha Krushaka Sanghathan Samanwaya Samiti joined the bandh.
The farmers also demanded amendment in the crop insurance policy, formation of a Agriculture Commission, pension for peasants and restriction on micro finance companies.
The farmers earlier on October 31, had staged a dharna in front of revenue divisional commissioner's office at Sambalpur and submitted a memorandum addressed to the chief minister.