The Telangana government now has an albatross around its neck. As rabi harvesting is set to begin in a few days, paddy will be piling up with the farmers. This time’s rabi yields are expected to be about 70 lakh tonnes. Till last year, the state used to procure all rabi paddy and hand it over to the mills for conversion into parboiled rice, which the FCI used to procure. But from this year, the Centre does not want to procure parboiled rice milled from rabi paddy as the demand for this variety has diminished over the years.
The problem is fast acquiring political overtones with KCR and the BJP going for each other’s jugular and Rahul Gandhi throwing his oar in. The Telangana government’s problem is its own making as it has followed the tradition of procuring the paddy by making the down payment to farmers and then offering it to FCI after conversion into parboiled rice. All went well with this arrangement till last year, when the Centre began tightening the screws on procuring parboiled rice. Last year, the state made the Centre procure parboiled rice with great difficulty. The Union regime finally agreed to the procurement only after extracting a written undertaking that the state would not offer it in future.
Months rolled by and now the state is caught on the horns of a Hamletian dilemma: whether or not to procure paddy. If it does, how can it dispose of the paddy? If it does not, how can it douse the flames of farmers’ resentment? Pushed to a corner, KCR, blaming the Centre for the mess, is demanding that FCI should procure paddy directly from farmers but no one in Delhi is listening to him. One way out is to procure paddy from farmers and sell it through e-trading. The other options include encouraging the private sector to step in and export parboiled rice. The state would also do well by paying attention to the Centre’s advice of coming out with a foolproof ethanol policy to use broken rice, a byproduct of milling of rabi paddy without boiling, as raw material for manufacturing ethanol, the future source of clean energy.