Millers to close down their businesses over levy rice

Millers to close down their businesses over levy rice

Millers to close down their businesses over levy rice

Rice millers across the State have decided to bring down the shutters from Monday, protesting the government’s increased levy rice collection target for the current year.

There are about 1,800 rice mills, located mainly in Raichur, Bellary, Tumkur and Koppal districts. The industry has provided jobs to thousands directly, with at least a hundred people working for each mill. The millers and the State government have been at loggerheads for the past three months over the increased quantity of levy rice being collected by the Food and Civil Supplies Department.

In the last three decades, rice mills have been giving about 1.5 lakh metric tonnes as levy rice to the government. But this year, with the launch of Anna Bhagya scheme – to provide rice at Re one per kg under the public distribution system to the poor – the government is trying to source rice at cheaper price from various sources.

Rice is also procured by the government through statutory levy on rice millers and dealers. The percentage of levy rice is fixed by the states with the approval of the Centre, taking into account the requirement for the Central pool, domestic consumption and marketable surplus.

The Siddaramaiah government has directed the millers to supply at least 5 lakh metric tonnes before March next year. Twenty-five per cent of the total paddy production should go for levy collection, and accordingly 3.5 lakh metric tonnes should be made available, is the argument of the government.

However, the mill owners argue that the calculation of the government is wrong because 54 lakh metric tonnes of paddy is not grown in the State. There is no guarantee that every farmer grows the same quantum of paddy every year.

Karnataka State Rice Millers’ Association held the meeting in Bangalore on Saturday to discuss their problems and the target fixed by the government. Representatives of about 200 mills attended the meeting, where it was resolved to close down the mills from Monday. 

Addressing the media, Association secretary N R Srinivas said, “We are not saying we will not part with rice for levy collection. But we are constrained to make 5 lakh MT available before March. We have explained our problem to the government through 28 letters/memorandums over the last three months. But the government has not bothered to invite us for a discussion. We have no option but to close our businesses,” he said.

A majority of the paddy growers cultivate the Sona Masoori variety which fetches not less than Rs 35 a kg. For the same rice, the government pays only Rs 22 to 24 per kg. The government sells coarse rice under the Anna Bhagya scheme, he said. 

“We fail to understand why the government is insisting that we should sell the Sona Masoori variety. If the government finds it tough to source rice for the PDS, it can request us, so that we too can help it by  purchasing it from outside the State. But the government is not ready for talks or negotiations,” he said. 

Suri Babu Nekkanti, president of Gangavati Rice Mill Owners’ Association, who attended the meeting, said, “The closure of mills will lead to price rise in the open market because the stock availability will fall. Besides, paddy farmers will find it tough to sell their produce. The government must have realised the problems of the millers before keeping 13.5 lakh MT as the annual target and 5 lakh MT as the temporary short-time target.”