The Telangana Civil Supplies Department this week said that it had achieved a record by making the highest ever procurement of paddy in 2018-19. "In Kharif and Rabi seasons, it (the department) purchased 77.41 Lakh Metric Tons (LMTs) of paddy from 14.73 lakh farmers at Minimum Support Price (MSP) and paid Rs 13,673 crore in their accounts directly," a press note from the department stated.
Officials said that they paid Rs 1,510 per quintal for 'Grade-A' paddy, while they paid Rs 1,470 per quintal for the 'Common' variety, putting the Telangana government at second place after Punjab in the country
"In this Kharif season, Civil Supplies purchased 40.41 lakh metric tons of paddy from 8,08,885 farmers through 3,297 Paddy Purchase Centers (PPCs) and in Rabi, purchased 37 lakh metric tons of paddy from 6,63,723 farmers at 3,509 PPCs," the press note added.
Officials also said that in the Kharif and Rabi season combined, 77.41 LMTs of paddy was procured from 14,73,608 farmers at 6,816 PPCs.
A steady increase
Officials said that the figures also showed that the paddy procurement programme taken up by the state was successful as more farmers were coming forward each year to sell their produce to the government.
To back this claim, the government said that in 2017-18, 53.98 LMTs of paddy was purchased at a cost of Rs 8,565.15 crore, pointing out that this year saw a procurement of an extra 23.43 LMTs.
Giving a breakdown of figures from the last three years, the department said, "In 2014-15, (state) purchased 24.28 LMTs from 3,329 centers and paid Rs 3,390.50 crore. In 2015-16, the department purchased 23.56 LMTs from 3,007 centers and paid Rs 3,396.97 crore. In 2016-17, department purchased 53.69 LMTs from 5,218 centers and paid Rs 8,089.56 crore."
In a statement, Minister for Civil Supplies Singireddy Niranjan Reddy, said, "With the implementation of farmer welfare schemes and new irrigation projects taken up by Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, we were able to make procurement from the farmers without any difficulties at record level."
"Online Procurement Management System (OPMS) software was upgraded so that farmers get information about nearest PPCs by sending SMS to them," he added.
A fair price?
TNM spoke to farmers and activists, who said that while the state government was taking steps and procuring paddy, the MSP was inadequate.
"We sold around 17 quintals got roughly Rs 1,500 per quintal. We are able to break even and save some paddy for domestic consumption but there is no profit as such for us," N Pedda Lakshmi, a paddy farmer with 2 acres in Kamareddy district told TNM.
"Maybe if we get Rs 2,200 to Rs 2,500, then it will help us better," she adds.
Speaking to TNM, Morthala Chander Rao, Telangana Rythu Sangham national convenor, said, "The MSP is not enough. Even recently, the Telangana government itself admitted in a letter to the Centre, that it costs a farmer an estimated investment of Rs 2,433 per quintal of the crop and requires an MSP of Rs 3,600."
As evidence, Chander also shared a newspaper article from January that was printed in the local media.
Asked why farmers are willing to sell such a large amount of paddy to the government, Chander says that this is because private traders are also burdened.
"As far as selling in the market is concerned, even private traders don't offer a good price. If private traders buy the crop and export rice to other countries, the price for the farmers may increase. World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs are also high and like input subsidy for farmers, some subsidy for exporting are also needed. Then, we can get up to Rs 2,500 per quintal," he says.
Stating that the debt cycle of farmers is continuing, Chander adds, "But by procuring this paddy at a rate that barely helps the farmers break even, the government is claiming that it has done a great deed and is boasting about it. Ultimately, it is farmers and agriculture in the state who suffer.