Farmers' stir may hit wheat procurement

Subhasish Mitra (Wide Angle)

The ongoing protest by farmers has cast a long shadow over the upcoming wheat procurement season from March, though the government hopes the agitation will be resolved in time.


The wheat crop is in good condition and if the current weather continues for next 10-15 days the government expects a bumper crop in the 2023-24 crop year (July-June).


"Wheat crop is very good. Fortunately, there has been no premature warming of the weather. Hopefully if this continues for 10-15 days more, we can expect a bumper crop," a top agriculture ministry official said.


Wheat output has been pegged at a record 114 million tonne for 2023-24 crop year, as against 107.7 million tonne in the previous crop year.


Food Secretary Sanjeev Chopra said after discussion with several states, it has been decided to allow wheat procurement in the first fortnight of March coinciding with the fresh arrivals in the market.


In certain areas, wheat hits the market early but is not procured due to the condition that the procurement will start from April 1.


"We are missing those 15-20 days of initial days of arrivals in the market (on) which we have now given freedom to the states. Most states will start procurement from March 1-15. UP has said it intends to start procurement from March 1," he said.


The government is also trying to open more procurement centres so that farmers do not have to travel long distances to sell their produce. The government will also ensure farmers get payment in 48 hours.


The Centre will fix the wheat procurement target on February 28 in a meeting with the state food secretaries. Last year, the government had procured 26.2 million tonne of wheat at MSP.


The Food Secretary said the government is willing for further talks with farmers' leaders and address theur concerns.


The government had given an offer to the farmer leaders considering their concerns like lowering of water table and soil quality. However, they have rejected the proposal.


"As told by the agriculture minister, we are willing for further talks. We are happy to talk to them. Probably, we were not able to communicate the full intent. I think constant communication will help resolve the communication gap," Chopra said.


Farmers have been protesting at Punjab-Haryana borders, raising various demands, including a legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price (MSP) for crops and farm debt waiver.


The government has repeatedly said it is ready for talks with the protesting farmers.

But, there was no breakthrough in four rounds of talks that were held between the government, represented by three Union ministers, and the protesting farmers.


On Wednesday, farmers' leaders decided to put their 'Delhi Chalo' march on hold for two days after a protester was killed and about 12 police personnel injured in clashes at Khanauri, one of the two protest sites on the Punjab-Haryana border.


Farmers observed a 'black day' on Friday following a call given by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) to mourn the death of a protesting farmer on the Punjab-Haryana border.


The SKM held a meeting in Chandigarh on Thursday to discuss the situation at Shambhu and Khanauri border points where thousands of farmers are camping as part of the 'Delhi Chalo' call.


After the meeting, SKM member and BKU General Secretary Yudhvir Singh said farmers will take out tractor marches on highways on February 26 and hold an All India All Kisan Mazdoor Mahapanchayat at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi on March 14.


The SKM demanded the Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, and state's Home Minister Anil Vij be booked for the "murder" of the protesting farmer.


The SKM, which spearheaded the 2020-21 farm agitation against the now-repealed farm laws, is not part of the Delhi Chalo agitation, but has extended support to it.


It also announced that the farmers will burn effigies of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the CM and the state home minister.


Subhkaran Singh, 21, a native of Bathinda, died Wednesday amid clashes between Haryana Police and Punjab farmers. The incident took place when the farmers rushed to the barricades, several layers of which have been erected by Haryana authorities to prevent farmers from proceeding with their march, and clashed with police.


Farmer leaders also demanded a judicial inquiry by a judge of the Supreme Court in the matter and Rs 1 crore in compensation to the farmer's family.


They accused Khattar and Vij of "orchestrating the repression" of the protesters.


The SKM has formed a six-member committee for coordinating with the breakaway faction -- Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) -- for fighting unitedly for the cause.


The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM) are spearheading the 'Delhi Chalo' march to press the government to accept their demands, including a legal guarantee of MSP for crops and a farm loan waiver.


Besides MSP, the Punjab farmers are demanding implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, pension for farmers and farm labourers, no hike in electricity tariff, withdrawal of police cases, and "justice" for the victims of the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence.


Reinstatement of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, and compensation to the families of the farmers who died during a previous agitation in 2020-21, are also among their demands.



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