Do PDS rice impact paddy cultivation in Manipur? The answer to it should have been provided by a well-documented research. But unfortunately, agriculture in Manipur is one of the least researched topics. General readers may even find the query irrelevant questioning its relevance. However, any cheap import is bound to affect the local produce. Governments used imports and tariff to regulate the prices of commodities. Cheap imports can play havoc to the local produce such as in the case of oil seeds in the country. The import of huge quantity of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia to meet the shortfall of edible oils coupled with lowering of tariff had literally played spoilsport to the local growers of oil seeds in the country. This resulted in farmers not preferring oil seed to grow and continue to insist on growing paddy coupled with the demand for minimum support price through legislation; which no government can afford. The stockpile of rice is so huge that the government is even thinking of converting it to ethanol for use as bio-fuel. The government policy should have led to diversification of crops as per the requirement, which unfortunately is not.
In terms of farming, Manipur is one of the states which have the highest input costs. Everything, including manpower, is costlier than elsewhere. As a result, the cost of the produce also has to be high. So much so that local rice was forced to sell at around Rs 40 per kg as compared to the Open Market Sale (OMS) of PDS rice at Rs 24. This disparity resulted in a change in the eating habit of the population and in fact many now prefer superfine rice available through the PDS system. A few decades earlier most do not prefer it but the large price difference forced many to adapt and now quite a few find it difficult to digest local rice! It is no surprise.
Besides, during the pandemic, rice was distributed to the poor gratis, which was really thoughtful and a good initiative of the Union Government as well as the local MLAs who bought PDS rice on OMS from their Local Area Fund and distributed it free. That was a life saver as many had lost their source of income due to the pandemic and its aftermath like lockdown, etc. In other time under different schemes rice was made available at a heavily subsidised price of Rs 3 per kg. It is a conundrum that when the OMS rice is available at Rs 24 per kg, in the open market it is available at Rs 18-24 per kg, indicating that there is huge leakage in the subsidised rice as no one will sell it at a loss after obtaining from the government godown. This should have been a red flag to the government but keeping mum seems to be the reality as many seem to benefit from this machinations.
The inference one can arrive is that either subsidised rice are either not made available to some of the beneficiaries or in the prescribed quantity or that the demand was made much higher than actually required and there is no takers which came out in the black market. Alternatively, many ineligible families were included in the list and these were not provided the quota. All alternatives may be contributing factor, as there are reports now and then that full entitled quantity is not made available to the beneficiaries or that it was not issued at all. Over-demand is likely to be reduced with the linking of Aadhar with Ration Card and the surplus available to come out in the open market may come down and the shaving off from the entitlement may increase.
Not only the need for filling one’s stomach is fulfilled, the state of affairs is such that brewing of local liquor is now done solely with superfine rice as the raw material. Enquiries were made from some brewers in the traditional brewing areas and they confirmed that no one uses local rice for production of local liquor. In fact, one brewer told that if local rice is used they have to jack up the price by 50 to 100 per cent and that would make it outside the reach of many regular tippers. She jokingly said that quality was never an issue; the only desire of those who purchase is the kick it gives, so the raw material is not relevant. Hence, the over reliance on superfine rice for local liquor production which is quite high as the consumption level rather than going down due to prohibition had increased manifold with IMFL in the black beyond the pocket of many.
Due to the high price difference of the PDS superfine rice and the local rice, many farmers are not able to dispose of last year’s produce even by giving high rebate. Many home granaries (kei) still has paddy from previous year harvest and efforts to sell them off could elicit limited response. Even millers do not want to take a risk of procuring and selling these as the chances of loss is claimed to be high.
Quite a few farmer groups had proposed to the government to procure local paddy by providing subsidy for use in the mid-day meal programme, without any reaction from the state government. Quite a few state governments have come up with schemes to support their farmers at the time of distress but not in Manipur. The incentives provided to the farmers is marginal, with a few quantity of seeds distributed free. This is in addition to the transfer of Rs 6,000 to their bank accounts from the Union Government and some subsidy in procuring farm implements and in organic produce. The seeds provided by the KVKs, ICAR, and CAU are in demand as the quality is assured but those provided by the departments are never in demand. This writer got 100 gram of Poona Red onion seed from the department a couple of years ago, which turned out to be spring onion. For him he can bear the loss but to a farmers whose sole income is from his farm, it will be a huge loss. This indicates the sincerity of the government in their support to the farmers, who are generally left to fend for themselves during disaster leading to crop failure.
Despite the law to protect paddy land, the land usage physically continues to change with those in power leading the way. A few action have been taken for converting paddy land for other purposes and the targets are those who have limited clout or are inimical to those in power. Even one who had dug a pond for irrigation and pisciculture purposes in his paddy land was hauled up for violating the law! By the roadside, industrial units and educational institutions continue to sprout, including highly polluting ones. For the owner, he is in a deep dilemma as the return from agriculture is limited and venturing into other activities yields a much higher assured income.
The arbitrary fixation of the requirement of PDS rice without taking into much consideration the local production had made paddy cultivation, the mainstay of agriculture in Manipur, a very risky proposition. This led many abandoning paddy cultivation for other cash crops; a correct choice for them. However, is this policy of the government, which seeks self-sufficiency in agriculture? Perhaps the desire for selling off excess requirement under the PDS underhand has over ridden all other aspects? The impact of it on the state’s paddy production may not have even crossed its mind. This over assessment of the PDS requirement will contribute greatly to the squeezing out of paddy. It would be good to recall Commoner’s first law of ecology “everything is connected to everything else” in that every action has a reaction elsewhere. When one dumps cheap agricultural produce from outside, it is bound to impact the local produce. For a remunerative return, should the farmer abandon paddy and switch over to more remunerative cash crops or even to a totally different vocation?
It would be in the fitness of things that a study is carried out on the impact of PDS rice on the agriculture in the state. A competent investigator can be roped in and a systematic assessment on the quantity of annual production of rice, shortfall in requirement, quantity utilised for preparation of local liquor, etc is assessed. The percentage of poor was systematically assessed by the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusion of Manipur University which comes to about 43 per cent of which majority (77%) are from the rural areas. The study was funded by the Planning Department of the state government and it may initiate a study on the impact of PDS rice on local paddy cultivation. The Agriculture Department or CAF&PD may not be too keen to commission such a study as it may come out with serious loopholes in the departments.