TRS determined to take the 'bully' by its horns over paddy bias

The Centre's attitude and frequently changing policy on paddy procurement have become the bone of contention between the Telangana Government and the Centre.

TRS determined to take the bully by its horns over paddy bias

HYDERABAD: The Centre's attitude and frequently changing policy on paddy procurement have become the bone of contention between the Telangana Government and the Centre. While the Centre is conspicuously arm-twisting the Telangana Government, by acting whimsically with regard to the lifting of paddy, the Telangana Government is constantly fighting for its right and an equal treatment on a par with Punjab when it comes to paddy procurement.

The confrontation began in summer during the yasangi (rabi) crop season over the purchase of boiled rice and brown rice from the state. After a blitz of representations, deliberations and persuasion, the issue seemed to have been resolved amicably. But in no time, there was fresh trouble brewing in the form of custom milling rice (CMR) which saw the two getting into a tangle again. The Centre halting the CMR procurement from the state, hiding behind clauses that the Telangana government considers frivolous, became politically sensitive between the two sides.

The TRS government obviously views this as a deliberate ploy -- influenced largely by the political interests of the BJP in the state -- to create needless hurdles and stonewall the procurement process. Questioning the motive behind the decision, it has been repeatedly asking the Centre as to why 50 lakh metric tonnes of paddy from Telangana cannot be procured when 1 crore MT could be allowed in from Punjab.

Throwing their weight behind the state government, even the rice millers have stepped up their attack on the Centre, amplifying the demand of the TRS. They held out a threat of taking drastic steps like withdrawal of sureties and the association guarantees for the custom milling rice, if the Centre failed to restart its immediate procurement.

Paddy stocks piling up

Currently, a total of 94 lakh MTs of paddy, collected over the last three seasons, are being stocked in the warehouses across Telangana. This could yield 63 lakh MTs of rice after the milling process. This is supposed to be procured by the Food Corporation of India (FCI), as per law.

But in an unexpected move, the Centre suspended the rice procurement on June 7 citing some procedural lapses. Missing of some rice bags during physical verification, and non-availability of details of gunny bags audit and the non-distribution of Centre-sponsored free rice for two months were some of them.

The Centre hiding behind contentious clauses and rules has left the TRS baffled and go about town trying to expose the foul-play and discrimination against the State, even as the stocks were piling up. The CMR procurement remains suspended for over five weeks now. In fact, Minister KTR has been demanding the procurement of CMR as soon as possible. And the ongoing monsoon season is only piling more misery as the paddy stocked in open yards is exposed to rain.

Ballpark estimates put the paddy drenched in rain at five lakh tonnes. Worse still, paddy is sprouting through the bags, rendering such stock useless for milling. The paddy stock damaged due to rain is estimated at a whopping Rs 1,500 crore in Telangana.

The farmers and millers are miffed with the Centre's continued reluctance and unable to comprehend why the crop is being allowed to be soaked in rains. They feel the state is being made a scapegoat for vested political reasons.

Politics at play?

At the height this blame game, it's confusion confounded with the self-contradictory statements by Union Minister Piyush Goyal on the paddy procurement from the state. The Union Minister, in March, maintained inside Parliament that it was not possible to buy the entire stock produced in any state. He said multiple factors determined the quantum of procurement and it was never based on just production. But in the same breath, he speaks of how paddy production in the country has declined by 27 per cent. There were occasions when he even called upon the states to increase paddy production.

The TRS, which is keeping a close watch on the Centre's dilly-dallying and the state BJP leaders' rhetoric on the issue, believes there is a tacit design behind the procrastination that cannot be observed with the naked eye. The BJP wants to achieve twin goals from the entire paddy mess: 1. Send out misleading signals to the people that the TRS government is not sincere in mitigating the crisis; 2. Keep the issue on the boil for as long as possible and finally restart the procurement at the most opportune time so that all the credit from this can be usurped by the BJP.

The Modi government's gamble here seems to be based on the premise that if the Centre does not buy the paddy stock, then people would construe it as a failure of the TRS government. That the paddy procurement is the domain of the FCI and no state will be able to purchase it as it can neither sell nor export it on its own is the hard fact. The BJP perhaps hopes that this would be glossed over by its rhetoric.

Realising the deep-rooted motive behind the Centre's non-cooperation, the TRS leadership quickly mounted a counter-offensive. Chief Minister KCR, ministers KTR, Harish Rao, Gangula Kamalakar and Rythu Bandhu Samithi chairperson Palla Rajeswar Reddy have been targeting the Centre's indifference through a torrent of statements.

The State Government has also invited e-tenders for the sale of at least 10 lakh MTs of rice as a stop-gap arrangement.

Sadly, Telangana is not alone in facing this predicament. There are at least five other states that cry hoarse of discrimination against them in paddy procurement by the Centre. There is a near-consensus among them that the Centre is creating hurdles for no rhyme or reason, all based on flimsy grounds.

Telangana, before its formation, was known for its drought conditions. However, KCR has transformed the landscape of the State into a rice bowl with accelerated implementation of irrigation projects and promoting farming through rythu bandhu, ryhthu beema, and input subsidies, etc. This led to the production of paddy to a staggering three crore metric tonnes. What it gets on a platter in return is a slew of punitive measures. The state is currently waging a battle of wits and nerves with the Centre and instead of being incentivized for being a top performer, it is staring at the prospect of further penalties.

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