Onus of pulses procurement may go to states
Prabhudatta Mishra

The government is planning to shift the responsibility of procuring and distributing pulses to states while the Centre will play a supervisory role in the functioning of Rs 11,000 crore price stabilisation fund (PSF). Since the fund is huge and the procurement has to be completed within a specified period, states will do a better job if they are provided the necessary policy support and funds, sources in the consumer affairs ministry said. The secretary in the department Avinash Srivastava, who assumed charge in the last week of June, held a meeting with senior officials and asked them to explore the possibility of states maintaining the buffer stock of pulses, sources said. The Centre has created a buffer stock of pulses by utilising funds from PSF with the objective of intervening in the open market in case prices rise. However, it has been also selling the pulses fearing damage even though farmers complain of not getting minimum support prices (MSPs) due to over supply. The plan is to create a PSF at the state-level to maintain the buffer stock of pulses, but the fund will be provided by the consumer affairs ministry, the sources said. However, the Centre will monitor the procurement and distribution operation of the states, the sources added. The finance ministry has made available Rs 11,000 crore under PSF for purchase of pulses, even as the budget allocation for 2017-18 was Rs 3,500 crore. The fund required is more because of the huge volume to be procured while there will also be income from selling the pulses in the market or to the states, an official said. So, the government has only to bear the losses and handling costs in maintaining the buffer, he added. The Centre has 20.44 lakh tonnes of pulses including 3.78 lakh tonnes of imported grains in its buffer stock as of July 9, official data show. Agri cooperative Nafed has procured 74,536 tonnes rabi pulses including 52,448 tonnes of chana this season starting from April 1 while other two notified agencies Food Corporation of India (FCI) and Small Farmers' Agri-Business Consortium (SFAC) have not bought any quantity. The government plans to buy another 1.5 lakh tonnes to take the total stocks under chana to 5.5 lakh tonnes, sources said adding it will cost about Rs 700 crore to undertake the procurement. If the finance ministry agrees, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where chana has been procured, will be the first states to undertake the procurement operation this year, the sources said.