Punjab farmers to be richer by Rs 23,600 crore

Chandigarh, Oct 6 (IANS) Reeling under a massive combined debt, farmers in Punjab will be richer by Rs 23,600 crore this season with a bumper paddy crop.

The Reserve Bank of India has sanctioned this amount as the cash credit limit to Punjab for payment to farmers and 'arhtiyaas' (commission agents) in the state for the current procurement season.

This is much higher than the Rs 16,030 crore paid to Punjab farmers last year.

The paddy procurement, which officially started Oct 1, is likely to pick up after Oct 10 as fresh stocks arrive in grain markets across Punjab. The Punjab government has set up 1,795 procurement centres for this purpose.

With good rainfall in the last few months, the yield is expected to be higher.

Out of the Rs 23,600 crore sanctioned by the RBI, Rs 17,600 crore has already been received by the Punjab government, officials of the food and supplies department told IANS. The remainder amount will be received soon, they added.

Punjab government agencies and the centre's Food Corporation of India (FCI) are expected to procure nearly 15 million tonnes of paddy this season. Over 770,000 gunny bags have been provided to the procurement agencies for the purpose.

"Payments to the arhtiyaas and farmers would be made through swipe cards by the state agencies. The farmers have also been given the option to receive the payments directly from the procuring agencies," a senior food and supplies department officer said.

But not all the money will reach the farmers.

"The arhtiyaas will take away a substantial chunk. In the last three decades, the arhtiyaas have pocketed over Rs 9,000 crore from commissions. They neither have to grow anything nor market it," said farmer Ajmer Singh of Fatehgarh Sahib district.

Punjab had procured nearly 13.4 million tonnes of paddy till Dec 31, 2012.

Sangrur, Ludhiana and Patiala districts - all falling in the fertile Malwa belt (south of the Sutlej river), recorded the maximum paddy procurement last season. Farmers in these districts were richer by over Rs 5,450 crore.

Punjab alone contributes over 60 percent of wheat and paddy to the national foodgrain kitty despite occupying just 1.54 percent of the country's geographical area.

The state was in the forefront of the Green Revolution in the 1960s to make the country self-reliant in foodgrain production.

The Parkash Singh Badal government has been urging the central government to increase the minimum support price for wheat and paddy as input costs had gone up considerably in recent years, with increase in the prices of diesel and fertilizer, among others.

"Farmers in Punjab are reeling under a debt of Rs 32,000 crore. The centre is doing nothing for them despite their hard work in helping the country become self-sufficient in food grains," Badal said.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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