Phailin blows rice politics contest into Chhattisgarh
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The aftermath of Cyclone Phailin and its effect on Chhattisgarh's agriculture have set the stage for a contest between the BJP and the Congress, which have already tried to outmatch each other in rice politics.
The Congress has promised 35 kg foodgrains free to beat Raman Singh's "chaur waale baba" image, and promised Rs 2,000 a quintal as paddy procurement price against the Rs 1,310 set by the party-led UPA government for the country. Raman Singh has countered that with a promise of Rs 2,400 a quintal — he will recommend to the Centre a minimum support price of Rs 2,100, which he will top up with a Rs 300 bonus from the state government.
What Phailin has done is that it has extended the duration of the rains and delayed paddy harvesting. This has led to sluggish arrival of paddy at purchasing centres across the state, setting the stage for the contest. But for Phailin, procurement should have wound up before the promises were announced, with the season having started almost three weeks ago, on October 21
"Our purchasing centre procures over 50,000 quintals. But so far, only three farmers have brought their produce totalling 74 quintals," says Anil Gopal, manager at Sahaspur's primary agricultural cooperative society, pointing at a pile of jute bags arranged by the society to pack the paddy.
Farmers appear torn between the twin temptations. "Raman Singh has tried to be clever with farmers," says Sugreevar Patel, middle-aged and weather-beaten, who grows paddy at Girisa village in Saraipali assembly seat. "He gives a bonus in two years — just before the elections and just after — and skips it in the remaining three years." Patel's produce is at the procurement centre with that of a few other from his village.
Congress leaders have been advising farmers to hold their crop back until December so that the Congress government will purchase it at Rs 2,000 a quintal. That works out to an effective bonus of Rs 690 a quintal, against the Rs 300 being promised by Raman Singh.