Sprouts of sadness: In the long wait before paddy procurement centres in UP, paddy sprouts, turns black and rots

The Uttar Pradesh government has set a target of procuring 55 lakh metric tonnes of paddy. Despite putting in place an online system, farmers are waiting for weeks in the bitter cold for procurement. In the process, the paddy spoils or starts germinating.

Arvind Shukla
| Updated: December 18th, 2020

Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

On November 6, Sanjeev Kumar, a farmer from Naya village in Lakhimpur Kheri, about 130 kilometres from Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow, took almost 150 quintals of paddy he had harvested to Maigalganj Mandi. He waited endlessly for it to be weighed. Only 50 quintals of paddy survived; the rest deteriorated in the cold, and germinated too. His harvest was finally weighed on December 14 after the local media highlighted his plight.

Talking to Gaon Connection, Kumar said: “Often, weighing did not happen. When it did, my turn never came.” 

Maigalganj is a town along the Lucknow-Delhi highway, famous for its gulab jamuns. However, this time the sweetness has been sucked out of the life of farmers, who had to endure bitter paddy losses. Many farmers at Maigalganj mandi complained that their paddy had been ruined. 

Satya Prakash Jamunia had placed his paddy under the tin shed at the Mandi Parishad premises. It began to turn black and rot set in. “I bought 150 quintals of paddy to the mandi forty five days ago. I also complained to the district magistrate, but no action was taken. I spent about twenty five thousand rupees, to bring the paddy in, turn it and dry it. Now, I have to take it back. I will have to sell it now in the market for nine hundred or thousand two hundred rupees. The government was claiming  it will double farmer incomes. I have already lost one lakh rupees,” he rued. The minimum support price (MSP) for paddy ranges between Rs 1868 and Rs 1888 a quintal.

Paddy sprouting in Rajapur mandi of Lakhimpur district. Photo: By arrangement

On December 14, one trolley of paddy taken by Jamunia was weighed at the second government centre at Gola near Maigalganj. Another trolley was sold in the open market at Rs 1,100 a quintal, about Rs 700-odd lesser than MSP. 

Why this hurdle in buying paddy? Sunil Tyagi, marketing officer and centre-in-charge at Maigalganj Mandi, told Gaon Connection, “The procurement centre is working after fifteen years, and there is no power fan, paddy drying machine or shed. The SDM saheb had arranged to immediately procure 50 quintals from every farmer, and the remaining in turn. The number of farmers is high, and that’s why the delay.”

In Uttar Pradesh, 4,341 paddy procurement centres function through 11 government agencies, under the supervision of the department of food and logistics. Farmers in India’s largest state say there are no procurement centres in their vicinity. There is a lot of congestion in the centres that operate, and they have to queue up for many days before their turn comes.

Procurement centre operators say procurement of paddy is not smooth because millers do not return paddy in time, citing quality issues. If millers return the paddy, these officials have a lot of paperwork to fill up, or face recovery proceedings. 

Sanjeev Kumar, farmer, showing his receipt for mandi entry in Magalganj mandi of Lakhimpur district. This photo was taken on December 13. Photo: Mohit Shukla.

The farmers, on the other hand, allege that everyone is hand-in-glove and middlemen’s and  traders’ paddy is procured against farmers’ names. 

During the several phases of talks regarding the three agricultural laws, the government has been reassuring protesting farmers about continuation of procurement at MSP. In support of its claims, the central government also referred to the bumper paddy procurement in Punjab. However, in many states, farmers are struggling to sell their paddy.  

This, when the Uttar Pradesh government has set a target of procuring 5.5 million metric tonnes of paddy under the current procurement season. Till December 18, it had bought 38.56 lakh metric tonnes of paddy. Close to 1.2 million farmers applied online for paddy to be bought this year, of which paddy has already been procured from 720,000 farmers. More than  Rs 6,600 crore has been paid to farmers towards paddy. 

The rest of the farmers who have registered are either waiting for their turn or have sold or are selling paddy between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,300 a quintal, way lesser than MSP, to meet their domestic and farming needs.

In Uttar Pradesh, 16.9 million metric tonnes of paddy is cultivated in 60 lakh hectares. In Lakhimpur Kheri, 100 km away from Maigalganj, Amanpreet Singh of Dhaka Farm in Paliya tehsil had to sell 68 quintals of paddy at the rate of Rs 1,200 a quintal. “I waited with my trolley from October 22 to November 13. Complaining did not help. The labour at the procurement centre went home for Diwali. Finally, two days after Diwali, I sold my paddy at one thousand two hundred rupees. My paddy was so shiny after three rounds of drying, but what’s the use?” his voice grew heavy speaking to Gaon Connection. 

Amanpreet Singh was at the gate of Paliyaka mandi in Lakhimpur Kheri District on November 3. A lot of farmers were arguing with Hariom Shukla, who is in charge of one of the two centres in Paliya mandi. According to the farmers, paddy had not been weighed at the centre for procurement for the past several days. They alleged the centre operator was seeking a commission of Rs 300 to Rs 400 for every quintal of paddy. 

To this, Harom Shukla told Gaon Connection, “The millers are not accepting paddy. If I weigh the paddy and the mills refuse it, from where will I compensate the amount lost?”

The excuses for non-procurement vary. Gurupyar Singh had brought about 170-180 quintals of paddy but he was taking it back. This, after hiring seven labourers a day on a wage of Rs 300 each. “I have been here for twenty days. First they said the paddy was wet. I dried it. Then they fell short of sacks. Now, they tell me the millers are demanding a commission. I have work at home. I have decided to sell it in the open market at any rate I get,” he told Gaon Connection.

Farmer Surinder Singh of Paliya told Gaon Connection that PCF (Uttar Pradesh Cooperative Federation) contractors were demanding a commission of Rs 300 a quintal of paddy. Many more farmers in Paliya mandi levelled similar accusations.

Achal Mishra, a progressive farmer from Medaipurwa in Lakhimpur Kheri, has already pleaded with everyone to sell his 300 quintals of paddy. He told Gaon Connection, “I am keeping track of the food department website and the paddy arrivals. Some days there is not a single trolley coming all day. But, when a farmer comes, he is turned down under some pretext or the other. However, during the night, trolleys come from elsewhere and are taken in.” 

A farmer could not hold back his tears after he saw his damaged paddy crop in Rajpur mandi of Lakhimpur. Photo: By arrangement

About 225 km away from Paliya, dozens of farmers have been stranded with their produce for days outside the Sugarcane Institute in Barabanki district. Lalit Kumar, who is 38 years old, is from Jhanjara village. “I have been waiting in the freezing cold for a week with my tractor trolley. There is no provision for stay, food or water. With not even a humble bonfire in sight, I am forced to spend the nights either lying down in the truck or  walking about to force some warmth into my body,” he told Gaon Connection.

The Yogi Adityanath Government has taken action against erring procurement centres and officials over complaints at paddy weighing centres. Government sources said as many as 792 officers, employees, contractors and millers had been issued suspension letters, memos and show cause notices till December 14. Some have also been imprisoned. 

According to Jaswant Singh, who is in charge of two procurement centres in Lakhimpur Kheri, the government imparts training to procurement officials only for testing moisture and cleanliness of paddy, but millers have other conditions too. “I bought paddy worth six lakh rupees but the mill has turned it down. Now, I am accountable for the amount of procurement done,” he said.

A slip showing the cost of paddy in Sitapur Mandi, UP. Photo: Arvind Shukla

A farmer showed Gaon Connection a message on his mobile phone. It said he has been paid by the government procurement centre. He never sold it there — he sold his paddy to a  mill owner. I received money for one hundred and twenty four quintals of paddy at a rate of one thousand eight hundred and sixty eight rupees, but I had taken one hundred and eighty quintals. I don’t make an issue of it, because the mill owner gives me an interest-free loan of three to four lakh rupees when I need it,” he said.

Ajmer Singh Cheena, senior vice-president of the UP Rice Millers Association owns several mills at Puranpur in Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh. “No mill owner is either buying directly or rejecting the paddy procured by centres. We are processing them and sending them to the FCI [Food Corporation of India]. On the contrary, FCI people are rejecting our rice. Only half the trucks are unloaded,” he said. 

Gaon Connection found that Pilibhit district was proactive in paddy procurement. It has made registration tokens mandatory at the mandi gate to ensure paddy procurement only from farmers. “The priority is to procure on MSP from small farmers, so we weigh their crop first,” Pulkit Khare, district magistrate of Pilibhit, told Gaon Connection.

“We are monitoring all procurement centres. We have also insisted that farmers come to get their crops weighed so middlemen do not interfere. If a farmer is unable to come, we have arranged for procurement from them as well,” Khare said. Besides this, millers are also being monitored and action taken against those found erring.

Divendra Singh, who is in charge of a procurement centre near Duddhi in Sonbhadra district, said that the government can procure only 35 per cent hybrid paddy in the entire season. Most farmers grow hybrid paddy for higher yields and smaller crop cycles, and “90 per cent paddy in this area is hybrid. We are, however, trying to buy paddy from as many farmers as we can”, he told Gaon Connection.

Gaon Connection tried several times to contact Manish Chauhan, Commissioner, Food & Civil Supply, Uttar Pradesh,  and other officials to speak about this issue, but could not reach them.

Read the story in Hindi.