M’rashtra cotton coterie covets crores in corona crises

Mumbai, April 25 (IANS) With nearly 25 per cent of the annual cotton production still lying unsold with farmers, a prominent farm activist has accused traders linked with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of creating hurdles in the government’s efforts to procure it and thereby make a killing of thousands of crore of rupees.

Shiv Sena leader and Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission (VNSSM) President Kishore Tiwari revealed that presently around 150,000 qintals cotton remains unsold with Maharashtra farmers owing to the lockdown since March 25.

The Cotton Corporation India Ltd. (CCIL) procures all cotton produced in the country at the minimum support price of Rs 5,400-5,500 per quintal, depending on the quality.

“Taking advantage of the lockdown, some unscrupulous traders and ginners are creating fears and compelling farmers to sell it to them at Rs 3,000-2,500 per quintal. The farmers are making huge losses as many of the CCI’s procurement centres have not yet started working despite the lifting of lockdown restrictions since this week,” Tiwari told IANS.

The brewing scam has prompted CCIL to even issue a warning to the cotton traders and ginners attempting to make windfall gains of thousands of crore of rupees by buying the kapas (raw cotton) at nearly half the MSP from the gullible farmers.

“We are aware of the problems here. Some farmers have resorted to panic sales in view of the lockdown and unscrupulous traders may have made big profits. This is very wrong and the state government must look into the matter,” CCIL Chairperson and Managing Director P. Alli Rani told IANS.

She said that out of the Cotton Advisory Board (CAB)’s estimated production of 360 lakh bales of cotton, around 280 lakh bales have already been procured by the government.

“Of the remaining, around 25 lakh bales are from Maharashtra and some 35 lakh bales from Gujarat left to be procured. But farmers cannot be compelled to sell below the MSP rate. They have time till September 30 to bring it to us,” Rani pointed out.

Tiwari demanded that the CCI should resume its procurement centres across Maharashtra within 24 hours, failing which he and other aggrieved cotton farmers threatened a token hunger strike on Sunday.

The VNSSM chief claimed that thousands of farmers have already offloaded lakhs of quintals of their cotton at cheap rates, incurring huge losses and this could further fuel suicides in the state, while the BJP’s trader lobbies allegedly earned thousands of crore of rupees through such “distress sale”.

“This year, the cotton production is expected to be much higher than the CAB’s estimates, at around 480 lakh bales. If not procured on priority, farmers will be forced to sell at even lower rates of Rs.2000 per quintal, and the BJP-linked traders will continue to make big profits. Although Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani is aware of the problems, nothing has been done so far,” Tiwari alleged.

A ginner, Pawan Singhania, Proprietor of Gold Fibres in Wardha informed that many ginners are prepared to take the raw cotton from CCI and start processing it, but they have no labourers.

“Many ginning units are shut as the labourers ran away last month. I have managed to retain my labourers by giving them food, accommodation and other requirements, so I can start my work immediately,” Singhania said.

However, the ticklish problem for Singhania and other ginners is that the CCI is demanding a higher percentage of cotton fibre compared to the percentage which it had accepted in March before the lockdown.

“Nearly 64 per cent from raw cotton is seeds, and 2 per cent is waste. How can we promise them a higher percentage of cotton fibre now, given the adverse weather conditions,” rued Singhania.

Another ginner from Yavatmal said that many of them have not received their payments since past over three months for the ginning works they have already completed for the CCI.

“They want us to accept the raw cotton, process it, provide their desired percentage of fibre, but what about our payment. Those who object, face the prospects of being blacklisted next year,” said the ginner, requesting anonymity.

Singhania said if the CCI is ready to accept the same fibre percentage as last month, many ginners are prepared to start work immediately, but a decision must be taken soon.

However, if the CCI remains insistent, the situation may worsen after lockdown is lifted as the labourers will immediately flee to their home states, and then all work will be stalled during monsoon.

On her part, Rani admitted that while a few procurement centres are already working, by Monday, many more are expected to be operational, and farmers can come after registering online and getting a pass.

“The farmers have nothing to worry. The government is with them and they have time till September 30 to give their cotton to us,” the CCI chief assured.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in)

–IANS

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