House stalled over distress sale of potato

Bhubaneswar: The Odisha Assembly today witnessed repeated adjournments over alleged distress sale of potato as the state government failed to procure the tuber from local farmers.

The issue was raised by members of both treasury bench and the opposition who urged Speaker Niranjan Pujari to issue a direction to the government to protect farmers’ interests.

Raising the issue, BJD MLA Ranendra Pratap Swain claimed that though the state government had announced Rs 6 per kg as minimum support price (MSP) for potato, farmers are opting for distress sale at Rs 3 to Rs 4 per kg.

“The government agencies have so far lifted only 200 tons of potato against the target of procuring 29,000 tons of potato this year,” Swain said adding the state has earmarked Rs 300 crore under Potato Mission.

This apart, agencies like Markfed did not bother to procure potato from farmers though the state government had sanctioned Rs 50 crore for it, he said.

Swain said while 4,500 tons of potato were awaiting procurement by the state agency in Cuttack, besides 4000 tons each in Khurda and Bargarh, 2000 tons at Bhanjanagar in Ganjam district and 5,500 tons at Laikera of Sundergarh.

Most of the potato crop was damaged by the heat, he said.

Describing the situation as ‘sensitive’, Leader of the Opposition Narasingha Mishra said farmers are paying a heavy price for helping the government which had encouraged them to go for potato cultivation.

“We demand a solution of the problems faced by farmers due to distress sale of potato. Though there had been a bumper potato production in the state this time, there are no storage facilities leading to distress sale,” Mishra said and urged the speaker to direct the government to do the needful in this matter.

Pujari said he has called a meeting at 5.30 pm to discuss the farmers’ problem. The meeting will be attended by leader of opposition, ministers in-charge of parliamentary affairs, cooperation, agriculture, food and suplies and leader of BJP legislature party.

Amid concerns over distress sale of potato in the state, Odisha Agriculture Minister today put the blame on departments of cooperation and supply.

“Keeping in view the shortage of potato in Odisha, we had encouraged farmers to go for tuber cultivation during the rabi season this time. As a result the state has had a bumper potato production,” Agriculture Minister Pradip Kumar Maharathy told reporters outside the assembly.

Agriculture department, however, was in no way responsible for the alleged distress sale of potato, he said. “This is because the agriculture department’s prime responsibility is to increase production of crop and vegetables and not to ensure their procurement and storage,” he added.

The procurement of potato from farmers is the responsibility of cooperation and distribution is the work of the supply department, he said, adding that therefore these two departments should be held responsible for the plight of farmers who are forced to sell their potato produce at Rs 3 or Rs 4 per kg, he said.

Admitting lack of coordination between the departments, Cooperation Minister Damodar Rout said he was not informed about the agriculture department’s plan to raise the potato production in the state. “So when the agriculture department has not informed us, how can the cooperation department create storage facilities”

Food and Supply Minister Sanjay Dasburma, who attended a meeting convened by Speaker Niranjan Pujari, said a meeting would be held under chairmanship of cooperation department tomorrow to chalk out a plan on how to deal with the situation.

The state used to import its potato requirements from West Bengal. Though the state government encouraged potato production it has no sufficient cold storage facilities to store it for future consumption.