CUTTACK: In an important ruling, the Orissa High Court has allowed rice millers of Baragarh district to purchase paddy and participate in the kharif paddy procurement process of 2007-08 that began in the district earlier this month. The rice millers were debarred from the process by the district administration for allegedly not clearing the arrears of regional marketing committees (RMCs).

Tagging as many as 41 writs filed by the affected millers, the bench of Justice I M Quddusi and Justice S C Parija on Tuesday issued notices to the district administration to file counters while allowing the petitioners to participate in the process. “The HC relief to the millers is however, conditional as the directive is subject to any further orders from the court”, said the petitioners’ lawyer Bikram Kishore Naik.

While district Collector Harihar Panigrahy had ordered banning the millers from participating in the procurement for not clearing the arrear dues of Baragarh and Attabira RMCs for the year 2001-02, the millers contest the collector’s order claiming that they have no outstanding dues in any of the three RMCs of the district. The other RMC of the district is at Padampur.

The petitioners argue that if they had any dues pending since 2001-02 fiscal then how were they allowed to participate in the process in subsequent years. They maintain that Orissa Agriculture Produce Marketing Act and Rules do not allow any produce to move out of the market yard of the RMCs in the event of any pending dues. “Hence the claims made by the RMCs are false and the ban order by the collector is arbitrary”, the petitioners said.

It is expected that around 30 lakh quintals of paddy is to be collected from Baragarh district alone in the ongoing process but in the absence of major players like Ganesh Rice Mills and Ganapati Rice Industries the paddy procurement in the district has not picked up yet. “Even as the process began about three weeks ago, only 2.66 lakh quintals of paddy have been procured till date”, said the district civil supplies officer Bhabagrahi Nayak.