Distress sale in Odisha: Blame it on 640 less procurement centres in 2018-19

... State opened 2,930 procurement centres vis-a-vis 3,580 in 2017-18

Bhubaneswar: Notwithstanding high decibel denials by State Government on widespread paddy distress sale, the shocking home truth seems contrary as this Kharif Marketing Season (KMS) Odisha government opened fewer paddy purchase centres across the State. Curiously, a whopping around 640 less paddy procurement centres were opened by the Food and Consumer Welfare Department in 2018-19 KMS, though State Government, post its much publicised Cabinet meet, decided  to buy 55 Lakh Metric Tonne (LMT) of paddy or  37 LMT of rice.

According to accessed data available with State Food and Consumer Welfare Department, around 2,931 paddy purchase centres have been opened till February end in 2018-19 KMS. This figure is lowest in last half a decade. Paddy purchase centres opened in 2015-16 were over 3,290 and that was further increased to around 3,580 in 2017-18. More pertinent is State Government has even decided to stop procurement in mid-February when the collection, in rice equivalent, was around 23 LMT. However, the government later amended its ‘stop’ procurement order and purchased over 30LMT rice or over 47LMT paddy till February end.

However, when contacted Food and Consumer Welfare Minister Surjya Narayan Patro asserted that State Government has opened more paddy purchase centres this season but was unable to provide an exact number because he claimed it’s a continuous process and district collectors were authorised to take remedial steps depending on evolving scenario.

But for the procurement flip-flops, opposition got a handle to accuse BJD government of enjoying a ‘honeymoon’ relationship with millers. State Congress President Niranjan Patnaik lambasted the State Government and charged that the Government has facilitated distress sale for election fund as this being an election year. BJP spokesperson Samir Mohanty accused that State Government is being run by millers.

Interestingly, opening of fewer centres come as a shocker when the truth is Minimum Support Price (MSP) is benefitting little to poor – small and marginal – farmers in Odisha. Such a bitter fact was brought to the fore recently by none other than Commission on Agricultural Cost and Prices (CACP). The CACP’s 2018-19 Kharif report labelled Odisha paddy procurement highly skewed.

The reason: Marginal farmers (owning below 1hect land) own State’s over 42 per cent operational land holdings but contribute a meagre 5 per cent to paddy procurement in 2016-17. Similarly, small farmers (1-2hect land) with around 31 per cent landholding contributed a paltry 12.9 per cent paddy procured in 2016-17. In contrast, large farmers with 1.4 per cent of State’s landholdings chipped in with whopping over 36 per cent of procured paddy in 2016-17 KMS. Thus, farmers having farmland of 2 –10+ hectares availed MSP to hilt as together they accounted 72.9 per cent of paddy procured in 2016-17, whereas State’s small and marginal farmers with nearly 73 per cent landholdings could contribute merely around 18 per cent of paddy procurement. Stinging enough, CACP report observed that villages sans procurement centres, lack of market access and high transportation cost thereof for transporting to nearby procurement centres have together dissuaded small and marginal farmers from availing MSP in Odisha.