'Unholy nexus behind tur dal price hitting the ceiling'

The Inquirer


 There’s been an unusual spurt in the price of tur dal, almost touching Rs 100 per kg. Basavaraj Ingin, convenor of pulses Commodity Council and president of Karnataka Pradesh Red gram Growers Association, tells
Ramakrishna Upadhya of Deccan Herald that the government’s policies have much to do with the sky-rocketing prices, which have not helped the farmers in the least.

Excerpts:On the sudden price rise:
Last year, there was a deficit rainfall and the production had gone down by about 30 per cent. The four southern states are the major consumers of tur dal and there was an overall deficit of 4 lakh tonnes. Even then, till April the price was ruling at below Rs 3,500 per quintal. Between December and March, the traders had bought all the stocks from the farmers at much less the price as the farmers don’t have the capacity to hold the commodity till there’s demand in the market. In late May, the state government floated tenders quoting Rs 6,600 to Rs 7,000 and that was the signal for the traders to jack up the price. If the ratail price of tur dal is Rs 85 to Rs 90 today, it is clearly the result of the nexus between traders and the government officials.

On severe shortage of tur dal in the country:
India is the largest producer and consumer of tur dal in the world. We produce almost 90 per cent of our requirement. Currently, we produce about 25 lakh tonnes per annum, of which 25 lakh quintals or 10 per cent of the total production comes from Gulbarga — which is known as the tur bowl of India. The shortage of around 4 lakh tonnes is made good by importing from countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Hong Kong.

Though there is increase in the area under production over the years, the main problem is that we have failed to improve productivity. Hence, the per capita consumption which was 71 gm per day in 1950s, has gone down to 34 gm/day. The average yield has stagnated at around 740 kg per hectare, while it has almost doubled in the neighbouring countries which grow tur dal only to export to India. We have lagged behind because of lack of research to develop drought-resistant and pest-resistant seeds. Also, we need to develop technology for growing it as a rabi crop.

On how the government can help the farmers:
We have been suggesting the constitution of a commodity board. There’s been a tur development board in Karnataka since 2002, but it has just been a spectator. It has been supporting the traders through its passivity.

Soon after harvesting, the farmers, instead of going to the market, should be able to deposit their produce with the commodity board, which in turn can pay 75 to 80 per cent of the cost price based on the minimum support price declared by the Centre. When the demand increases in the market, the board can call for tenders from traders and the 90 per cent of the sale proceeds can be transferred to the farmers, with the board keeping 10 per cent to meet administrative costs. Thirdly, the states themselves can get the commodities processed at private mills on rental basis, and transfer them directly to meet its needs like the public distribution system. That way, the government will save hundreds of crores.

On meeting government’s own demands:
The government is the biggest consumer of tur dal as it has to supply to various schemes of women and child welfare programmes, children and pregnant women nutrition programme, mid-day meals, hostels, hospitals, prisons and so on. What the government should ideally be doing is to asses the requirement for the next year, offer remunerative prices to the farmers and procure directly from the farm gate. Instead, what the officials normally do is to approach the traders and buy from the market on an ad hoc basis. This happens because there is a clear nexus between the traders and the officials, who share the booty at the cost of the farmers.

On using the revolving fund:
The state government has a Rs 500 crore revolving fund for agriculture which needs to be effectively utilised. The concerned departments should do the crop mapping, collect the harvesting data with expected yields and transfer the funds temporarily to intervene in the market. This can be done not only for pulses, but all agricultural produces. Thus, it will help in price stabilisation; farmers will get a better price and even the consumers will benefit with the elimination of the traders’ commission.

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