Haryana: Heavy rain spells doom for basmati belt

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Heavy rain damaged the standing paddy crop in many parts of India’s main basmati-growing belt of Haryana, giving way to demands from farmers to let them sell their produce directly to rice mills instead of state-owned APMC (agricultural produce market committee) mandis.

Raghbir Singh, a farmer from Dadupur Roran village of Karnal district, had only three days back harvested the early-maturing Pusa-1509 basmati variety on two of his five-acre land. He was quite buoyant, as the variety was fetching Rs 3,500-3,600 per quintal, as against last year’s Rs 2,800-2,900.

But he couldn’t sell the produce due to strike by arhtiyas (commission agents) in Haryana for the past 3-4 days. He, then, decided to store it in his cattle shed. His problems have now compounded by the continuous rain over the last two days, which has also affected the crop on the remaining three acres.

“The high moisture in the grain will lead to discolouration or even germination, bringing down its price,” said Raghbir, who wants the government to allow him to sell directly to rice millers/shellers. “They have paddy driers, unlike the APMCs, to bring down the moisture and prevent deterioration of the grain,” he added.

On Friday, the entire basmati belt from Sonepat and Panipat to Karnal, Kurukshetra and Ambala received heavy showers. Worse, there is forecast for more in the next two days.

“The damage will be mainly to short-duration basmati varieties such as Pusa-1509 and Pusa-1692, and also PR-126 (a non-basmati variety), which mature in 115-125 days. If these were transplanted before July 1 and sown in nurseries about 25 days earlier, they would be ready for harvesting. Their standing crop can suffer damage from lodging and the mature grains sprout in the plant itself,” said A K Singh, director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). No damage, however, has been reported to Pusa-1121 basmati and other paddy varieties that take longer to mature.

“I had planted Pusa-1509 and 1692 on eight acres. Out of that, I have already harvested the crop on five acres. The produce on two tractor-trolleys is lying in the Karnal APMC mandis. These couldn’t be sold as arhtiyas were on strike. I am worried about both my harvested and mature standing crop,” said Jatinder Miglani, a farmer from Faridpur village in Karnal district’s Gharaunda tehsil. Miglani is placing his hopes now on his Pusa-1121 crop on another 20 acres.

Vijay Setia, former president of the All-India Rice Exporters’ Association, said that the Haryana government should allow farmers to bring their crop directly to rice mills and exempt paddy sold in the next three weeks from levies that add up to 6.5 per cent (2 per cent APMC market fee, 2 per cent rural development cess, and 2.5 per cent arhtiya commission).

“The APMC mandis cannot handle paddy containing moisture up to 30 per cent. The government must suspend imposition of market levies as well as compulsory sale in APMCs for three weeks so that farmers don’t suffer losses,” he said.