At a time when the state government’s food and supplies department has been trying to detect ‘fake farmers’ to bring about transparency in paddy procurement through rice mills, a group of farmers in Alipurduar district expect the government to act against mill owners involved in what they call ‘rampant corruption.’
State minister for food and supplies, Jyoti Priya Mallick, has recently taken a decision to contact farmers individually to ‘cross examine’ records (that are merely in papers) of paddy procured by rice mill owners, following complaints from various quarters.
However, rice mill owners have been showing in papers that they procured paddy from farmers and they are taking payment from the government, when in reality, several metric tons of paddy still remain with the farmers, who have also sold off several metric tons in Assam for a price that was far better than the government- prescribed support price.
‘Government records’ in north Bengal show that a group of rice mill owners this year procured huge quantities of paddy from farmers in Alipurduar, a district that produces less paddy and more tea, and where another main industry is tourism and not agriculture.
A section of ‘genuine farmers’ in Alipurduar has also alleged that no one procured their paddy by paying the government’s actual support price. Notably, according to official information, farmers in Alipurduar, Cooch Behar and adjoining areas have sold off their paddy in Assam at better prices this year.
Records show that one Suchi Trading Co Pvt Ltd purchased 20243.423 Metric Tons (MT) of paddy from Alipurduar, as per the rice mill-wise procurement status report during 2017-18 as on 19 April 2018.
After procurement, the state godown received 3750.786 MT of rice and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) received 378 MT, while the ‘pending’ figure stands at 9437.707 MT. As on 19 April 2018, a total of 22 organisations procured 62,655.308 MT of paddy, and of them, the state godown received 9892.314 MT and 30188.742 MT is ‘pending.’
On the other hand, in the name of Suchi Trading Co, a total of 3137.90 MT of paddy was procured from Darjeeling district, as on 20 April 2018. Both the state godown and FCI have not yet received the rice, while 2102 MT is still ‘pending.’ A total of 20 rice mills purchased 64097.54 MT of paddy from Darjeeling district as on 20 April 2018, records show.
Investigations have further revealed that the rice mill, which has purchased over 20,260 MT of paddy from Alipurduar, allegedly does not have the capacity to prepare rice from its mill located at Matigara in Siliguri. Similarly, there are some suspected rice mills, which have also purchased huge quantities of paddy, but merely in papers, and they have done this allegedly in connivance with officials of the food and supplies department.
Asked to comment on the matter, minister Mallick sought detailed info on the “procurement” figures from this correspondent. “I will get back to you and let you know about the matter after thorough examination of records,” he said over the phone, even as he was in a meeting as part of the rural poll campaigning for his party.
When contacted, the Darjeeling district controller of food and supplies, Manik Sarkar, said: “There is a mechanism for checks and balances. If there is a specific complaint, we must look into the matter.” “We may also visit the rice mill of that firm, which procured huge quantities of paddy, to know its capacity to ready rice for government supply,” he added.