A recent proposal by the Centre on procurement of foodgrains from farmers on Minimum Support Price (MSP) has drawn suspicion from farmers and criticism from the opposition parties.
Even as farmers in many parts of the country are protesting for MSP, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has released a draft proposal to change the quality norms that apply to the food grains bought by it. NDTV is in possession of the draft proposal that says the changes are necessary to meet international standards of foodgrains.
While the FCI claims that the move is aimed at benchmarking foodgrains with global standards to make better quality available to common people and help in long-term storage, farmers see a ploy to make MSP more inaccessible to them through tougher regulations.
The Congress has accused the government of trying to avoid procurement and slash MSP, but sources in the government maintained that the broader objective behind this exercise is to ensure that common people get better quality food products and the government will move forward on this proposal only after a consensus emerges among states on this issue.
On December 31, a meeting notice was circulated under the chairmanship of the FCI chairman in order to review existing quality standards of food grains procured under the central pool and to benchmark them with global standards.
As per this draft proposal, the recommendations for moisture content in wheat grain have been proposed as 12% against the current limit of 14%. The permissible limit of foreign matter has been reduced from 0.75% to 0.50%. Slightly damaged wheat was also reduced from 4% to 2%. The limit of shriveled and broken grain has also been reduced from 6% to 4%.
In the case of paddy, permissible moisture content has been reduced from 17% to 16%, the foreign matter limit has been reduced from 2% to 1%, the lower limit of damaged and discoloured grains from 5% to 3%. In rice, the broken percentage has been reduced from 25% to 20% and the moisture content from 15 to 14%. The limit of damaged grains has been reduced by 1% and red grains wouldn’t be allowed.
NDTV visited Bhopal’s Karond Mandi, where farmers reached around 9 am, but the mandi officials only turned up after 12 pm. So, we managed to discuss the new proposals with farmers.
Naval Kishore Kushwaha, who came from Dharmara, raises a family of 22 people from 17 acres of farmland. He said, “If moisture seeps in, the rate for our crop will go down. There is no system for the farmer, only problems from every corner.
Brij Kishore Meena, who owns 40 acres of land, concurred. “If moisture is more, prices will be less. They also know that we can’t do anything about moisture regulation. Already, we are always in queues to get our dues – to sell our produce, to get fertiliser, seeds…everywhere,” he said.
Some experts, and Congress, feel that this was an indication that FCI wanted to run away from purchasing grains. Kedar Sirohi, Ex-Member of the Agriculture Advisory Council, Government of MP said ” I feel there is a conspiracy to end MSP. On one hand, FCI is tightening foodgrain procurement norms but relaxing it in import. Our farming is done in different climates and geography so there will be differences in the quality that the government has been adopting. Food and civil supplies minister of Chhattisgarh Amarjit Bhagat said that they will have to follow the guidelines by the center but questioned why farmers are troubled on one pretext or the other.
Government sources have defended the decision and said, “FCI is working on a draft roadmap to revise the procurement norms with state governments. It has requested all the concerned state departments in charge of procurement to engage farmers, millers, and other stakeholders in a discussion at the state level on proposed new norms of procurement.”
The FCI chairman chaired a meeting with state food secretaries in charge of procurement last week to seek their views on the draft roadmap prepared by FCI. States have submitted several important suggestions.
There are two broader objectives behind the proposal to revise the procurement norms – to ensure that common people get better quality foodgrains and the procurement of better quality foodgrains would help FCI in storing them for a longer period to meet future exigencies.