Anna Bhagya, one of the ambitious programmes of the State government, may have come as a relief to as many as 10 million Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Anthyodaya cardholders across the State from the daily pressure of arranging for food. However, it seems to have mounted “terrible” pressure on as many as 1,818 rice mill owners in the State. The rice mill owners complain that the target of levy rice to be collected from them and then distributed among Anna Bhagya beneficiaries, is totally unscientific and unrealistic.
The levy rice collection target set by the government for the present year is 13.53 lakh tonnes as against just 1.5 lakh tonnes in the previous year. The mill owners say it is impossible as they could meet only 33 per cent of the target of 1.5 lakh tonnes last year.
“It is impossible to meet nine-times last year’s target this year, when we could not meet the target last year. If the government doesn’t come up with a revised, achievable target, rice mills will have no other option but to shut down,” said Konda Krishnamurthy, owner of a rice mill in Raichur.
The government has set levy rice target for each rice mill on the basis of the electricity it consumes. The levy rice is classified into two categories, IR-64 and common. While the former is purchased at Rs. 2,044.40 a quintal against its market price of about Rs. 2,300 a quintal, the latter is purchased at Rs. 2,162.53 a quintal against its market price of Rs. 4,000 a quintal.
The problem is that irrigated farm belts in Karnataka don’t grow IR-64 rice that is always sold at far lower prices in the open market as compared to Sona Masoori varieties. They grow only Sona Masoori which could fetch high profits. However, the government has put Sona Masoori under common rice category and priced it even lower than IR-64.
“Since I didn’t want to sell Sona Masoori at throwaway prices under the levy quota, I purchased the low-priced IR-64 from north India and sold it to the government last year. However, this year’s target is too much to meet,” said Maram Tippanna, secretary, Raichur Rice Mill Owners’ Association.
The rice mill owners allege that the government has not taken into account the increased cost of production while fixing the rates for levy rice. “The cost of labour, empty bags, electricity and other things have drastically increased in the last ten years. However, the government has not factored that while fixing the price for levy rice,” said Savitri Purushottam, a mill owner and office-bearer of the association.
Another issue that the mill owners are concerned about is the government may indefinitely delay payments for levy rice. “The payments are supposed to be made within 24 hours of purchase. Last year, however, it was delayed for one month, despite the fact that the amount was negligible as compared to this year’s huge target,” said Mr. Purushottam. If the target of 13.5 lakh tonnes is met, the government will have to pay Rs. 3,000 cr. at the price fixed.
When contacted, Minister of State for Food and Civil Supplies Dinesh Gundu Rao said: “We don’t mean to harass anybody. As per the existing procedure, 33 per cent of the hulled rice is to be collected as levy, and we will follow it. ”