In Punjab, every farmer was allotted specific spaces earmarked for dumping of stocks and no one else was allowed to enter those areas.
The government’s wheat procurement so far in the 2020-21 marketing year has surpassed the last year’s 34.13 million tonnes, surmounting all impediments in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Wheat procurement target has been set at 40.7 million tonnes (MT) for the 2020-21 marketing year. Although the wheat marketing year runs from April-March, the bulk of procurement is normally done in the first three months.
State-run Food Corporation of India (FCI) and state agencies undertake purchase of wheat at the minimum support price. In a statement, the food ministry said the overall wheat procurement has touched 34.15 MT as on May 24 in the current marketing year, surpassing last year’s figure of 34.13 MT.
Out of which, 12.58 MT of wheat has been procured in Punjab, 11.33 MT in Madhya Pradesh, 7.06 MT in Haryana, 2.03 MT in Uttar Pradesh, 31,000 tonnes in Uttarakhand, 21,000 tonnes in Gujarat, 12,000 tonnes in Chandigarh and 3,000 tonnes in Himachal Pradesh, it said.
Highlighting measures taken for smooth procurement, the ministry said wheat harvesting generally starts towards the end of March and procurement commences in the first week of April every year. However, with the imposition of the lockdown with effect from March 24, all operations came to a standstill. The crop had ripened by then and was ready for harvesting.
Considering this, the central government gave relaxation to start agricultural and related activities during the lockdown period, and the procurement could start from April 15 in most of the procuring states. Haryana started little late on April 20, it said.
Stating that the biggest challenge was to ensure that procurement is done in a “safe manner” during the pandemic, the ministry said this was achieved through a multi-pronged strategy of awareness creation, social distancing and deployment of technology.
The number of purchase centres was increased substantially reducing the farmer footfalls in individual purchase centres. New centres were set up using every facility available at gram panchayat level and the numbers were increased sharply in the major procuring states like Punjab where it went up from 1,836 to 3,681, 599 to 1,800 in Haryana and from 3,545 to 4,494 in Madhya Pradesh, it said.
Using technology, farmers were provided specific dates and slots to bring their produce which helped in avoiding overcrowding. Strict social distancing norms were followed and sanitisation activities were undertaken regularly, it said.
In Punjab, every farmer was allotted specific spaces earmarked for dumping of stocks and no one else was allowed to enter those areas. Only people who were directly associated were allowed to be present during daily auctions. In addition to the threat of spread of virus, the ministry said procuring agencies faced three major challenges. The first one was availability of jute bags. As all the jute mills were closed, production of jute bags used for filling of procured wheat stopped, creating a major crisis.
This was tackled by using more plastic bags, supplemented by used bags with very strict quality conditions. Through continuous monitoring and timely actions, it could be ensured that the procurement was not stopped due to lack of packaging materials anywhere in the country, the ministry said.
The second challenge was to save wheat crops from unseasonal rains in major producing states. This posed a major threat to the farmers as such stocks could not be procured under normal specifications. The central government and FCI intervened immediately and after conducting detailed scientific analysis, specifications were re-fixed to ensure that no farmer is put to distress while making sure that the produce so procured meets the minimum quality requirements of the consumers, the ministry said.
Third challenge, the ministry said was the tight labour supply position as well as the general fear created among the masses about the virus. This was addressed by taking a series of confidence building measures at the local level by the state administration. Labour was provided with adequate protection safety gears like masks, sanitisers etc and other precautionary measures were also taken to ensure their safety, it said.
“With the concerted and well-coordinated efforts by Government of India, FCI, State Governments and their agencies, procurement of wheat could be undertaken very smoothly in all surplus states, helping farmers and replenishing stocks in the central pool,” it added.
The Union Agriculture Ministry in its third estimate has pegged wheat output to reach an all-time record level of 107.18 MT in the 2019-20 crop year (July-June) as against 103.60 MT in the previous year.