NATIONAL

Maharashtra Cong. Ministers threaten to resign on cotton price issue

MUMBAI OCT. 28. Some Congress Ministers and legislators, hailing from the cotton growing Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, have threatened to resign if the price to be paid for the cotton to the farmers under a non-existent monopoly procurement scheme is not pegged at Rs. 2,500 a quintal.

As many as 20 of them gathered here at the residence of a Minister, Manikrao Thakre, and demanded that the price be hiked from Rs. 2,300 a quintal to Rs. 2,500, a couple of days prior to the launch of an agitation by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Ministers who made the threat include Babasaheb Dhabekar and Vasundara Deshmukh.

The Congressmen were apparently not only upstaging the BJP in ensuring that a message was sent out to the cotton-growing constituency but also the major partner in the coaliton government, Nationalist Congress Party. The NCP Ministers were to meet later tonight, along with the Congressmen, to discuss the issue and take a similar stand.

However, the Congress later changed its approach and met on its own, instead. The MPCC(I) chief, Ranjit Deshmukh, said that the Congressmen would not join the meeting convened by the NCP Minister for Excise, Anil

Deshmukh.

The monopoly cotton purchase scheme was given the "go-by" last cotton season by allowing, for the first time, private sector buyers to enter the field, hitherto prohibited. That was because the nodal purchasing agency was saddled with losses of upwards of Rs. 4,500 crores since 1993-94. According to a law enacted in 1971, all cotton grown in Maharashtra had to be bought by the Cotton Growers' Cooperative Marketing Federation at support prices declared by the Centre.

The losses became a habit, when populism and demands from farmers led to the Government announcing bonuses on the prices offered which was welcomed by about three million farmers who grow cotton.

In 1971, the support price was Rs. 231 a quintal. It is now 10 times more.

This year, compared to last season, the prices offered by private buyers were a high of Rs. 2,700, but when the Government demurred, it began to slide.

The legislators who have threatened to resign say that if higher prices are offered, the prices by private buyers would remain high or it would plummet. The slide, says Mr. Thakre, "is already visible".

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