Bengal’s paddy cash transfer falters

Farmers in Bengal
Launched a year ago, farmers not availing it as they don't have bank accounts

While the UPA government is banking heavily on implementation of the cash transfer policy for centrally- sponsored schemes so the beneficiaries could benefit, the Trinamool Congress government's "cash transfer" scheme for paddy procurement has met with several hurdles despite claims of success.

The Trinamool government abandoned the previous Left Front government's model of paddy procurement by paying farmers in cash. It introduced a system of paying the crop value through cheques — a method almost similar to the UPA government's policy of cash transfer directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries.

A year has passed since the new procurement policy was put into effect in West Bengal but it has come to light that the system has not changed the fortune of a majority of small and marginal farmers. The Reason: Most of the farmers want to be paid in cash instead of cheques because of complication involved in banking operation and their ignorance about it. Though the state government claimed that almost 98 per cent of the farmers have opened bank accounts, farmers' organisations and rice millers have a different story to tell.

"Bank branches are not available always in all villages. Therefore farmers, who spend most of their time in fields, do not want to travel a long distance go to banks. They know little about banking operation. Farmers need cash for quick harvest. If given bank cheques, they have to wait for money as cheques need time to be encashed. What we have seen is that because of these reasons, farmers have negative impression about the new government's paddy procurement policy," says Nripen Chowdhury, the state secretary of CPM- affiliated Sara Bharat Krishak Sabha.

During Left Front rule, farmers used to come to rice mills and sell their produce against cash payments. "Now, for getting cash, they are selling paddy to middlemen at price lower than the minimum support price (MSP), which is currently Rs 1,250 per tonne," Chowdhury says.

According to him, not even 50 per cent farmers have opened accounts. "Only big farmers have bank accounts. They are selling paddy to the government while small farmers are still deprived of the MSP," he adds.

The experience tells that most of the farmers take loan from private landlord for farming. The condition is that they will sell paddy to the lenders and not to the government. It is the lenders and not the farmers who sell paddy to the millers. The small farmers get only a portion of their produce.

DN Mondal, president of Bengal Rice Mill Association said: "Farmers in certain districts often encounter with difficulties because of lack of adequate number of rice mills. There are about 10 rice mills in Howrah, South 24-Parganas, North 24-Parganas and Nadia. Farmers do not want to travel long to come to the rice mill along with paddy sacks because of soaring transport costs. Therefore they prefer to sell their produce to their neighboring people."

The farmers, who want to open zero balance accounts, also complain that they do not get proper advises from the government and the banks. Even there are reports that farmers had to return from bank after being told that zero balance accounts are not opened.

Flooded with complaints that middlemen, posing as farmers, were selling paddy to rice millers, the state government has this time decided to engage Block Development Officers (BDOs) in identification of actual farmers through land deeds, commonly known as parcha. But reports suggests that middlemen are opening bank accounts to claim MSP for paddy and they are collecting forged parchas. "We have asked BDOs to be more careful in identifying the farmers," says state Food and Supply Minister Jyotipriya Mullick.

He claimed that 98 per cent of the farmers have opened zero balance account and the government is assisting the remaining 2 per cent farmers to open bank accounts. Till 2011, 74 percent farmers had bank accounts. "Yes, we must admit that still there are some pockets where farmers have not opened bank accounts. Also there are complaints of distress sell. We are requesting the farmers to give us two photographs and one identity proof so that we can help them open bank account." Mullick said.

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