With much of the country under a lockdown due to the COVID-19 crisis, the central government is considering a fortnight’s delay in starting its annual wheat procurement programme, to prevent farmers and others crowding at any place.
It is also considering delaying procurement of paddy from some parts of Maharashtra, a hint of which was given by Food Minister Ramvilas Paswan in reply to a tweet on Tuesday. The government of Punjab, officials said, had asked for the two-week delay in wheat procurement. In Haryana, it usually starts from April 1.
In Madhya Pradesh, a leading wheat producer in recent years, there is a possibility that procurement get delayed as most wholesale centres (mandis) have been closed due to the lockdown. In normal years, procurement begins before April 1.
“Several big states have expressed their desire to delay the annual wheat procurement in the light of COVID-19 restrictions and a final decision on this is expected soon,” a senior government official said.
If procurement operations are allowed, he noted, mandis in north India could see a massive influx of farmers, labourers and other support staff, putting all of them at the risk of COVID-19. India’s annual procurement of wheat is 30-35 million tonnes (mt).
A delay in procurement would also mean farmers would need to hold the harvested crop at their own risk, exposing it to inclement weather. “In such a situation there should be some relaxation given in the quality parameters as well,” a farmer leader from Madhya Pradesh said.
India’s wheat crop was estimated at a record 106.21 mt in the second official Advance Estimate some months earlier.