Bhubaneswar: For the last several years, it has been an annual event in Odisha when the opposition and ruling parties lock horns over farmers’ issues, particularly during the New Year’s season over the paddy procurement procedure for the Kharif marketing period.
The political parties find it handy to tussle over the sensitive issue to win the hearts of the farmers. They blame each other for working on behalf of the middlemen (Dalal).
This time also, the governing BJD has accused the opposition BJP of advocating for the Dalals as the State Government lifted paddy directly from the farmers and is regulating the provisions for paddy procurement.
The BJP on the other hand alleged that the State Government and the middlemen have an unholy nexus for which farmers suffer and get less prices over their produce than the Minimum Support Price.
Despite the mix up between BJD and BJP, the fact remains that the middlemen certainly have a major role in the paddy procurement to the detriment of the farmers. All want to champion the cause of farmers and win their trust.
The poor farmer, always a loser at the market yard remains confused as to who is actually working for the middlemen, whose meddling in paddy procurement process has been admitted on the floor of the Assembly by the State Government in 2014.
When senior BJD leader Pratap Kesari Deb was the Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Minister, he informed the State Legislative Assembly on 6 February 2014 that the State Government has asked the Vigilance Directorate to investigate into the role of middlemen during paddy procurement.
Although six years have passed, nobody is aware of the findings of the Anti Corruption Wing. Even if the Directorate of Vigilance submitted its report, nobody knows what action the State Government has initiated against the middlemen who put farmers in trouble.
It is also a fact that the middlemen cannot thrive for long and operate unhindered continuously without blessings of the political leaders of some party. The conclusion is that the middlemen certainly play a role and both the parties are aware of the machinations of these dubious fellows.
However, no such visible action is taken against any of the middlemen so far. It is in fact a reality that all parties, both the ruling and the opposition, prefer to forget the issue soon after the marketing season of paddy is over.
The issue again crops up next year and the parties pander their sympathies again. The poor and hapless farmers only witness the agitations and join the stir led by politicians, without any results. The issues remain unresolved, to be raised again next year.
As usual, the party in power claims that the paddy procurement is being conducted in a transparent manner and farmers are now being paid directly through their bank accounts. Therefore, the role of middlemen does not exist in the payment.
This apart, the State Government for the last two years has introduced the centralized token system for sale of paddy in Government Market Yards in order to prevent middlemen taking advantage from this process.
Only the eligible farmers are able to sell their paddy in the market yard and no middlemen or trader can get the MSP rate. Though the State Government’s token system has proven helpful to certain extent to prevent the middlemen, the manner in which the tokens are issued give rise to miseries of the genuine farmers, allege many farmers.
As the tokens are issued centrally, instead of from the districts, the farmers have to wait for long to sell their produce or get an earlier date in which they are unable to take the paddy to the market yards. If for some reason or the other, the paddy is not lifted on the scheduled date, he has to wait for long and suffer for long periods in market yards.
Despite several agitations, the State Government has refused to withdraw the token system by claiming that it actually helped prevent middlemen. Reforms are required in the token system which could be made simpler by holding discussion with stakeholders, particularly the farmers.
There is also an allegation that middlemen exploit farmers coming to the mandis with the help of officials in charge of the market yards. Most of these middlemen owe their allegiance to local leaders of different political parties.
The elected leaders instead of joining the agitation should identify the middlemen. It is high time that the opposition BJP, if it is sincere in its demand, should release a list of middlemen operating in different districts and their links with the politicians. The State Government may also engage an independent agency to identify the middlemen, if it really wants to end the Dalal Raj in the paddy procurement.
There is also an allegation that the mandi authorities cut about 5 to 10 kilogram of paddy in a bag of 100 kilogram under the plea of fair average quality (FAQ) norms, causing a huge loss to the farmers. The opposition parties also allege that the mandis opened late for procurement and closed when the farmers were still in the queue at some places.
The ruling party, however, defended the State Government by pointing out that the paddy procurement has increased to 56 lakh metric ton in 2019-20 and MSP transfer to farmers hiked up to Rs 12,808 crore which shows that the farmers of Odisha have immensely benefited. “The BJD Government stands guarantee that every single bag of paddy of genuine farmers will be procured,” a statement said.
Anyway, as the fight between the ruling and opposition parties continues, it is high time for the state administration to evolve a foolproof mechanism to ensure that the Dalal Raj ends in the paddy procurement. As both the parties admit that the middlemen play a vital role in procurement, there should be an effective way to deal with it in order to save farmers from exploitation.
One should be optimistic that the State Government which has already set international standards in many sectors will never hesitate to resolve the issue which has been affecting about 70 per cent of the state’s population. It is not at all a difficult task, but requires strong political will to resolve the issue.