In a cabinet meeting held on Tuesday, the Bhupesh Baghel government in Chhattisgarh announced that it will procure a maximum of 20 quintals of paddy per acre.
The decision, announced months before the Assembly elections, is likely to benefit nearly 24 lakh farmers who are registered [2022-23] to sell the crop in Chhattisgarh.
“In the Kharif marketing year 2023-24, the policy for procurement and custom milling of paddy and maize at support price was finalised. Under this policy, paddy and maize will be procured at the support price declared by the Government of India [GoI]. Kharif paddy will be purchased from farmers in cash and linking at support price from November 1, 2023 to January 31, 2024. Similarly, Kharif maize will be procured from November 1, 2023 to February 28, 2024. As per the announcement of the Chief Minister, maximum of 20 quintals of paddy per acre and 10 quintals of maize per acre will be procured from farmers…” a government statement read.
Critical and complicated issue
The formal approval for the upward revision of the quantity per acre comes at a time when the politics around paddy procurement – something political commentators such as Sunil Kumar, the editor of Daily Chhattisgarh newspaper, describe as “the most significant issue” for both the politics and the economy of the State – has heated up. In the past one month, the ruling Congress and the Opposition Bharatiya Janata party have come face to face over this complicated issue that has two broad dimensions -- price and the quantity.
Earlier this month, at one of the Bharose Ka Sammelan (gathering of trust) organised by the State government in Rajnandgaon, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had claimed that while the government intended to increase the procurement per acre to 20 quintal, the Centre had reduced the quantity of rice it buys from Chhattisgarh from 86 lakh metric tonne to 61 metric tonne.
“I want to convey it through this stage that Congress always serves the interest of farmers, labourers, poor, youth and women. Whether the Centre buys our rice or not, all of my cabinet colleagues are here, under any circumstances we will but 20 acre [per quintal] from the farmers,” said the Chief Minister. Earlier, he had written a letter to Union Minister of Food and Public Distribution, Peeyush Goyal requesting to keep the target of rice procurement in the central pool at 86.5 lakh metric tons in the Kharif marketing year 2023-24.
Days later, Union Minister Peeyush Goyal during his visit to Raipur hit back at these allegations and added that while the State government was to deposit 61 lakh metric tonnes of rice in FCI under the central pool for 2022-23, it had only supplied 53 lakh metric tonnes till September 13.
Slew of promises
As far as the price is concerned, in the run-up to the 2018 election, the Congress had promised ₹2,500 per quintal which it paid for the first year after assuming power. The minimum support price for that year was ₹1,900.
However, ever since the Centre refused to buy rice from States that paid above the minimum support price paid by it, the Baghel government introduced the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Scheme (RGKNS) through which it currently pays an input subsidy of ₹9,000 per acre in four instalments every year to the farmers. This translated to ₹600 per quintal of paddy produced as last year when the government had purchased 15 quintal of paddy per acre from all registered farmers. In total, it bought 107.5 metric tonnes of paddy in 2022-23.
The BJP, however, claims that with the Centre continuously hiking the MSP (it was last hiked in June in case of paddy), the effective amount that the State is paying is shrinking. The party also says that without the Centre paying for the rice under the central pool, the State cannot procure paddy in such quantities and at such price.
While the manifestos for the Assembly election for both the parties are awaited, the Congress has been talking about ₹3,600 per quintal in the coming years, without going into the fine print such as the MSP and other calculations.
Most recently, during Rahul Gandhi’s public event in Bilaspur on Monday, senior Cabinet minister Ravindra Choubey yet again said that under the Rajiv Gandhi Nyay Yojna, the State government procured paddy at ₹2,640 per quintal and next year it would be ₹2,800 per quintal. “If we come to power, I promise the Congress government after a year we will procure paddy from farmers at ₹3,000 (per quintal), in second year it will be ₹3,400 and after three years it will be ₹3,600,” he said.