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Amid criticism, Centre cites high moisture content for postponement of paddy procurement in Punjab, Haryana

New Delhi,  With Punjab upset over Centre”s postponement of paddy procurement till October 11, the Union Food Ministry on Friday said it has been done to protect farmers as sale of paddy with high moisture content caused due to untimely rains may lead to rejection of the grain at buying centres and consequent loss to farmers.

Paddy samples — checked by regional offices of state-run Food Corporation of India (FCI) at Punjab and Haryana — showed paddy in Punjab was having moisture content of 18 to 22 per cent, while in Haryana 18.2-22.7 per cent against the permissible limit of 17 per cent, it said.

The paddy crop in both agrarian states was having high moisture content due to untimely rains in the second fortnight of September that affected the standing kharif crop, it said.

“Accordingly, to save farmers from inconvenience and to protect farmer”s interest, Government of India decided that procurement of paddy under minimum support price (MSP) operation would commence from October 11, 2021 in Punjab and Haryana and advised all agencies to gear up to help farmers,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Haryana government had also written to the Centre intimating about the untimely rain and requested for relaxation in moisture content in paddy, it said.

Further, the ministry said procurement of paddy at high moisture content is fraught with risk of increase in damage percentage of rice grain. Also, the grain will become vulnerable to shriveling, blackening, discolouration and prone to infestation.

“This may lead to rejection at procurement centres and would lead to distress sale of paddy and consequent loss to the farmers,” it said.

The better course would be to harvest the paddy crop offered after a period of 10 days i.e. after proper maturity then the problem of moisture in the paddy grain can be minimised, it said.

Accordingly, Punjab and Haryana governments have also been requested to advise their agencies to dry the paddy already arrived and further produce may be brought to the mandi after proper drying.

The decision to postpone paddy procurement in Punjab and Haryana is in the “overall interest of farmers and consumers as well as to accept paddy stock as per FAQ specifications to ensure quality procurement for millions of consumers under PDS of National Food Security Programme. However, moisture content is the main determining factor”, it added.

Quoting Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) data, the ministry said rainfall during September was 77 per cent and 139 per cent above normal in Punjab and Haryana, respectively.

Below normal temperature was recorded in most places due to downpour. There were rains on September 29 and 30 in some parts in both the states. Because of the untimely rains, maturity of paddy grains is delayed, it added.

Meanwhile, Senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala in Chandigarh hit out at the BJP-led government at the Centre over its decision to postpone procurement of Kharif paddy till October 11, alleging that it is a clear conspiracy to end the paddy procurement at MSP.

Paddy procurement for 2021-22 kharif marketing season in Punjab was to commence from October 1, while in Haryana it officially started from September 25. PTI