MP’s politics of wheat procurement
Posted May 11, 2012on:
Shivraj Singh Chauhan has a genius for converting everything into a profitable racket and then obstreperously blame the Congress-led UPA government for ignoring the interests of Madhya Pradesh. The IAS officers help obsequiously in his machinations. The procurement of wheat is a case in point.
Long before the current procurement season started, the chief minister had started proclaiming that the government was fully equipped to purchase all the wheat that came to the mandis and that no farmer would have to wait. The situation was now and then reviewed by the chief minister and chief secretary Avani Vaish as well as other officials concerned and the arrangements were found satisfactory.
The State government’s vast network of officials connected with agricultural production had estimated that around 65 lakh tonnes of wheat would be available for purchase by the government agencies. The government needed 2.8 lakh bales of gunny bags for the purpose. However, the State government asked the Centre in November last year to arrange for it only 1.44 lakh bales and stated that the State would arrange on its own the remaining 1.44 lakh bales needed, which it did not do.
In April when the farmers were out with their produce at the mandis (which are managed by the bureaucracy as the government has not held the mandi elections for quite some time), the chief minister started making distress calls to the Centre for immediately dispatching to the State the gunny bags and even threatened to sit on a dharna, along with the BJP MPs, in front of Parliament House in Delhi to highlight the anti-farmer attitude of the UPA government. The State government also raised the estimate of the wheat arrival in the mandis from the earlier 65 lakh tonnes to 80 lakh tonnes.
Chauhan’s enthusiasm for holding a demonstration against the UPA government in Delhi was somewhat checked when Union Food Minister K V Thomas wrote to the chief minister calling his bluff and the State Congress led by Kantilal Bhuria announced a programme of State-wide agitation to expose Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s mischief. Thomas said in his letter that planning for purchase of bags by the Madhya Pradesh government was not accurate and it increased its initial projected requirement of 1.44 lakh bales of bags to be purchased from the Directorate General of Supplies & Disposals to 3.19 lakh bales. The supply of jute bags was bound to be affected in the State as the Madhya Pradesh government revised its requirement of jute bags frequently, while other States like Punjab and Haryana had firm planning in November 2011 itself, he said. Thomas added, “It may be impressed upon the State officials concerned to properly plan for their jute bag requirements in future in a more realistic manner.”
Chauhan has been doing it with specific objectives in mind, according to those who have been keenly watching his wheat politics. First, he and his chief secretary and other officials invite the farmers with the firm assurance that they would not have to wait for selling their produce in the mandis. Initially the procurement goes smoothly. Then the chief minister announces that there are no bags because the Centre has not supplied these and the procurement stops. The farmers are not in a position to wait indefinitely or take the produce back and store it (where?). They start making distress sale to private traders for Rs 800-900 per quintal whereas the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat has been fixed at Rs 1365 in Madhya Pradesh. Who the beneficiary private traders are is anybody’s guess.
By the time the bags start arriving in the State, many of the farmers have made distress sale of their produce. In anticipation of this, Chauhan has already increased the figure of estimated wheat production this year from 65 lakh tonnes to 80 lakh tonnes. In all probability, this “increase” is phoney. Some of the wheat purchased in distress sale for Rs 800-900 per quintal is expected to flow back to the government purchase centres where it would fetch a price of Rs 1365 per quintal. A neat game of hundreds of crores of rupees within a few days!
Besides, some “trusted farmers” from the neighbouring States may be ready with their wheat to sell at the government purchase centres in Madhya Pradesh because here they would get more for their produce. The Madhya Pradesh government is paying a bonus of Rs 100 over and above the minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1285 fixed by the Centre. How this is done was explained by Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Ajay Singh in July last year by issuing a well-prepared “black paper” on the State government’s wheat procurement policy. Some examples:
The government had declared Chhatarpur and Tikamgarh districts as drought-affected but lakhs of tonnes of wheat was procured from there. The government procured more than 800 quintals of wheat from a canteen owner in Harda, Gvond Moolaji, though he owned only around ten acres of land. The recorded yield in the district is around 20 quintals of wheat per acre.
The caretaker of the Civil Supplies Corporation godown at Ashoknagar had refused to accept 500 quintals of wheat as he had found that it was from the previous season. The sample tests had also shown it to be old. Wheat purchased from Uttar Pradesh was shown as having been purchased from the local farmers in Pichhor and Khaniadhana tehsils of Shivpuri district.
The “black paper” listed instances of large scale bungling in weighing and transport also.