Krishnakumar Tomar, a science graduate was one of the first to grow Basmati in Badi, which falls in Raisen district. When he harvested his crop 14 years back, he had no idea where to sell it. With no local takers, he was told he could get a good price for it at Delhi’s Narela mandi or Kota in Rajastha. “I wondered whether it was worth the trouble going all the way there”, recalls Tomar. The long road journey to Narela may only have further sowed seeds of doubt over his decision to switch from growing regular high-yielding paddy, he told The Indian Express. But today, “basmati is my main crop”, who grows Pusa Basmati-1 (PB-1) on his entire 35-acres farmland.
Tomar is among the many farmers in this area – having assured irrigation, thanks to the Barna Dam completed in the late 1970s – who have stopped planting regular paddy or soyabean in the kharif season. They have prospered by switching to a crop that is now a bone of contention between Madhya Pradesh (MP) and the northern states led by Punjab and Haryana. At the heart of the dispute is MP staking claim for inclusion of 13 of its districts – from Morena, Bhind, Sheopur, Gwalior, Datia, Shivpuri and Guna in the north to Vidisha, Raisen, Sehore, Hoshangabad, Narsinghpur and Jabalpur in the central-south – in the Geographical Indication (GI) area officially demarcated for basmati cultivation.
As of now, only seven states in the Indo-Gangetic plains on the foothills of the Himalayas – Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, West Uttar Pradesh and two districts of Jammu & Kashmir – have been granted GI certification rights for growing basmati. The states that have been issued the GI tag – mainly millers and farmers in Punjab and Haryana – are vociferously opposed to extending the same to MP. Their contention is that the state neither has a history nor the specific agro-climatic conditions suitable for basmati cultivation. But for farmers here, basmati is what has brought them prosperity that was non-existent till a decade ago. Tomar may have, then, struggled to dispose of his crop. But that changed with the entry of millers, who sensed an opportunity to procure basmati from MP at rates lower than what it cost in the traditional northern belt.
“There is no dearth of buyers for basmati, unlike wheat, where we are entirely dependent on the government. Nor do we have to go to any procurement centre to sell, as the company agents come to us directly to purchase from our doorstep. And the basmati crop does not fail from less or more rains, which is not so with soyabean”, notes Sunil Sharma. The Class XI-pass Sharma owns a Mahindra Bolero SUV, while his friend and fellow-farmer Mukesh Chouhan drives a Scorpio. “Many people in these parts have purchased four-wheelers and even property 100 km away in Bhopal. It is all only due to basmati”, he points out.
According to Rajesh Rajora, Principal Secretary (Agriculture) in the MP government, the state has submitted evidence, including documents and publications dating back to the British era, to prove that basmati was being cultivated in the relevant districts long enough to warrant a GI tag. That evidence was, however, not accepted by the Intellectual Property Appellate Board, which, in an order on February 5, directed the MP government to file additional evidence. The latter has since challenged the order and the matter is currently before the Madras High Court. All this wrangling comes even as basmati exports from India have shown a decline in the last couple of years, after posting a more than ten-fold jump to over Rs 29,000 crore between 2006-07 and 2013-14.