Tur dal burnt a hole in your pocket last year. This year, farmers face the heat
Maharashtra's tur (pigeon pea) farmers are an unhappy lot.
Last year, after prices for pulses went through the roof - with tur, also known as arhar, being sold at nearly Rs 200 kg during the festive season - Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged farmers across the country to sow more pluses in the name of national interest.
Responding to the PM's appeal, and anticipating good returns, farmers in Maharashtra sowed a lot more tur. In fact, according to Vijay Jawandhia, a veteran farmer leader from Nagpur, the total area under tur cultivation in Maharashtra increased from 1.23 million hectares last year to 1.53 million hectares this year.
Blessedly, a satisfactory monsoon resulted in a bumper crop.
But even as the farmers began to anticipate a financial windfall and the thanks of the nation, their dreams were washed away by the government's sheer inability to buy the millions of tonnes of tur dal that they dutifully brought to various National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (Nafed) procurement centres.
Frustrated over the delay, several farmers were forced to sell to private traders at much lower prices than the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
The blame is being laid at the feet of the government and its faulty policies and lack of preparedness. This is particularly because, as Jawandhia points out, the total tur production in the country is much less than the national requirement.
"This year, total tur production is around 20 lakh tonnes against the requirement of 80 lakh tonnes. Ideally, the entire amount produced should have been procured by the government,” he says. "Now the government will have to import around 20 lakh tonnes."
Despite a five-fold increase in the production, Jawandhia said that farmers are being forced to sale their produce to traders at around Rs 4,100 per quintal, which is much less as compare to the MSP of Rs 5,050 per quintal. This is huge loss to the farmers, he adds.
Many cotton growers also shifted to sowing tur, anticipating a handsome income.
An unprepared government
According to third advanced estimates for Kharif season 2016-17 by the department of agriculture cooperation and farmer welfare, the total tur production in the country would be in the range of 46 lakh tones. Out of these, 20 lakh tones has been produced in Maharashtra alone.
The procurement is done by various departments such as Nafed, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) and the Department Of Agriculture Cooperation And Farmer Welfare. According to information, DoCA has procured 11.63 lakh tones of tur till now.
“The procurement is done under the Price Stabilisation Scheme. Tur procurement is also done by other departments under various farmer welfare schemes,” DoCA official said.
Bowing to the pressure from the farmers and opposition, state government extended tur procurement till 22 April to accommodate as many farmers as possible. Then on 8 May, after meeting union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh in New Delhi, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that tur procurement at Nafed has been extended till 31 May.
Sources at Mumbai Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) said, “The current crisis is just because of mindless policies and sheer negligence of the government officials concerned. Following the shortage last year, a majority of the farmers in the state sowed tur. The government should have been ready for the bumper crop and made adequate financial provisions to procure the entire amount."
According to them, "it is hard to believe that the government was not at all aware about the estimated tur production and was caught on wrong foot. The fact is that, government has no funds to procure tur.”
Aggravating the situation
While farmers are dealing with the fallout, BJP leaders in the state, instead of trying to salvage the situation, are making mockery of the situation.
Maharashtra state unit president of BJP Raosaheb Danve, in a party programme at Jalna, criticised farmers for demanding tur procurement. “This government has procured five lakh tonnes of tur for the first time in the history. The government will procure another one lakh tonnes by 31 May. No previous government ever did so much for farmers. Stop cribbing now,” Danve said.
Reacting to the statement, Maharashtra Congress president Ashok Chavan said, “This is nothing but sheer insensitivity of the government towards poor farmers. The statement has only added slat to the wounds of farmers.”
Calling the lack of action from the government a betrayal, he said, "There was an overwhelming response to the appeal. Millions of tonnes of tur is yet to be procured, and a huge stock has been destroyed due to untimely rains. It is nothing but a classical example of mindless planning,” Chavan said.
Fadnavis said that the previous government had procured only 20,000 tonnes of tur against the production of 13 lakh ton. “Till now, we have procured more than five lakh ton and another one lakh ton would be procured till 31 May. This is the highest procurement by government in the history,” he said.
Jawandhia says that the government should have increased import duty on tur up to 60% like it did for sugar. “Unless the cost of imported tur is at par with the domestic stock, farmers will not get any benefit. If the imported stock is available at lower cost, no trader will buy domestic stock,” he said.
He believes that the situation can be salvaged even if the government increased import duty on tur up to 60%. tur procurement in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka has also been stopped.
“The overall picture of tur procurement is really grim. Tur growing farmers across the country are facing problems. The government need to act fast to protect them,” Jawandhia says.