RAIPUR: Political parties know their election manifestos are for the crass consumption of voters, who latch on to the promises without bothering much about the economy. Not surprisingly then, ahead of the assembly polls, the ruling Congress and BJP competed with each other in offering the best Minimum Support Price (MSP) to the paddy farmers of Chhattisgarh. No one really knows about the economic costs of the promises, regardless of which party forms the government.
Here they are: If the BJP is voted to power in Chhattisgarh, it will launch ‘Krishi Unnati Scheme’ that will offer an MSP at `3,100 per quintal for paddy procurement with the procured limit fixed at 21 quintals per acre. The Congress declared that after retaining power, they will provide MSP at `3,200 per quintal with a procured limit of 20 quintals per acre.
The influence of farmers on the political class is visible as they make for 2.03 crore votes; the registered paddy growers are over 26 lakh. That’s why paddy procurement remains a major political issue in Chhattisgarh. Any promise to better the paddy procurement price has a major bearing on the politics of the state. The state will have to bear an estimated spending of nearly one-third of the total annual budget outlay during Kharif marketing year 2024-25 whichever party forms the government this time. The Chhattisgarh budget size, including the supplementary demands, has this year crossed `1.25 lakh crore.
The state has witnessed a direct contest between the Congress and BJP in largely bipolar politics. The state government has raised the procurement target to 125 lakh metric tonne (LMT), the highest ever for 2023-24. The government spokesperson said that this year 7.5 lakh gunny bags would be required. Early this year, Chhattisgarh created a new record on paddy procurement with the figure crossing 107 LMT-mark, the figure cited by the state government as an achievement that reflects the growth of the agrarian community as the beneficiaries.
The exercise on procurement of paddy at MSP has begun from November 1 and will continue till January 31, 2024. Owing to the assembly elections and the festive occasions, the procurement process is slow and so far only 11.60 LMT have been sold by 2.81 lakh farmers. The number of paddy procurement centres in the state is 2,617. The number of cooperative societies established for the convenience of paddy growers was raised from 1,333 to 2058.
The Centre this year has decided to roll out a biometric-based system in an attempt to ensure greater transparency in the procurement of farm produce in the states. The practice has been made mandatory for food grain procurement for the Kharif marketing years 2023-24 in Chhattisgarh. The state has begun preparations for biometric authentication and placed an order for the purchase of equipment. Since the election code of conduct was implemented and the reach of all procurement centres couldn’t become possible, the purchase is being done without biometric authentication.
The state also claimed a new system may create major inconvenience for the paddy growers in remote and inaccessible areas besides the hilly areas of Bastar (south) and Sarguja (north) where the exercise might hinder the effective process of procurement. The BJP had often asserted that the Centre’s share in paddy procurement is over 80% in the state. The Baghel government countered the opposition’s claim, saying the state purchases the paddy after taking a loan every year.