News Analysis

Haryana farmers may pay a heavy price if forced to delay wheat harvest

Rajalakshmi Nirmal BL Research Bureau | Updated on March 27, 2020 Published on March 27, 2020

Standing crops run risk of being destroyed by farm fire and inclement weather

The Haryana government on Thursday wrote to the Centre, seeking approval to start wheat procurement this year from April 20, instead of April 1, and to carry it out in a staggered manner. This comes in the backdrop of a nationwide lock-down to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

To incentivise farmers to delay the harvest, the State government wants to give ₹50/quintal for arrivals that come between May 6 and May 31 and ₹125/quintal for arrivals between June 1 and June 30. While it is a neat plan on paper, it has left farmers worried.

By delaying the harvest, farmers will have to leave the standing crop at the mercy of the weather. Already, since Thursday, there have been rains in many parts of Haryana and forecasts are that it may continue for next few days. So, farmers are already fearing damage of their wheat crop.

Last year, all of Haryana’s wheat crop was harvested by April 27-28. This year, due to current weather conditions it may be delayed but not extend till end of May.

Farm fire fears

The other fear is farm fire. Vikas Chaudhary, a wheat farmer from Karnal, told BusinessLine: “Wheat crops completely dry up as summer starts. They easily catch fire when the bearing of the harvester gets hot or even if there is a spark from a bulb or electric wire and controlling the fire becomes difficult with high velocity winds.”

However, a senior official from the Department of Agriculture, Haryana, who spoke to Business Line, said, “It is raining here today...farm-fire is a highly imaginary situation...”

Many farmers in the State do not have storage space at home or field. As per government data, over 65 per cent of holdings in Haryana are small and marginal, with the size of holding less than 2 hectare. And the fear of these small farmers over farm fire is not without a reason. Last year in Haryana about 200 acres of wheat crop in a dozen of villages across Karnal and Kaithal districts were destroyed by fire, per media reports. Wheat crop spread over about 400 acres and stubble over nearly 800 acres in the Madlauda and Sanoli blocks of Panipat district were also destroyed by fire, said a Tribune India report on April 27.

Agents may take advantage

While incentives have been announced for farmers to delay the harvest, it looks like the real beneficiaries will only be the arthiyas — the commission agents. Unlike elsewhere in the country, in Haryana, even the government’s MSP procurement happens only via the commission agent network.

The agent gets jute bags to procure wheat from farmers as the procurement season opens. But it is his wish when he issues the ‘I form’ to the government — in April, May or June. He can also pocket the incentive given by the government to the farmer.

“Usually, the commission agents are given jute bori (jute bags) on the date the procurement starts,” said a farmer from Palwal who did not wish to be named. “They take the harvest from us over the next 10-15 days and give us the ‘J form’ (that has details of the produce taken from the farmer and MSP paid) whenever they please. While the MSP rate is written on the form, the commission agent decides what he wants to give us. Small farmers like me can’t question them.” (The J form is issued to the farmers while the I form is issued to the government by the agents.)

BusinessLine had highlighted the problem of small farmers in Haryana in an article titled ‘For Haryana’s farmers, MSP is only an illusion’ last November, when this writer had visited Karnal. In a State where farmers get cheated on the MSP itself, what does an increment (incentive) in the procurement price mean at all?

Solution

This is the time the Centre has to push the Haryana state government to start procuring directly from farmers.

To oversee the procurement, the Village Panchayat Secretary can become the nodal officer and MNREGA workers can be used for loading/unloading suggest some farmer groups.

Else, the solution is to open the mandis by the normal dates and ensure hygiene and social distancing. If the standing or harvested crop is destroyed by rain and moisture or fire, it will be a bigger problem for the State to handle.

Published on March 27, 2020
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