Cluttered with sarson (mustard seed), the auction yard at the agriculture produce market in Khairthal town of Rajasthan's Alwar district has turned somewhat slippery, with farmers and commission agents hovering around the produce unloaded from sacks brought in tractors.
Sitting at one corner of this mandi - one of the largest for the rabi oilseed in Rajasthan - Sunderlal Yadav flashes a wry smile, as he supervises the two labourers emptying his crop. "Nobody cares about the zamindar (farmer). Last year, the lowest rate I got for my sarson was Rs 3,700 per quintal. One lot that I sold at the season's end in May fetched me over Rs 4,000. This year, prices may not even cross Rs 3,500," says the 47-year-old from Sihali Khurd village in Alwar's Mandawar tehsil, who has come to offload his entire 40 quintal produce harvested from 10 bigha (6.25 acres).
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In the current marketing season from mid-March, mustard seed has traded in Khairtal at an average rate of Rs 3,300-3,400 per quintal, way below the Centre's minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 4,200 for 2018-19 and also the Rs 4,000 and Rs 3,700 for the preceding two years' crops.
Inside his one-room shop, Srinivas Gupta, a commission agent at the mandi, has a few words of consolation for Yadav, who has just walked in to complete the formalities before the auctioning of his crop. The auction facilitated by Gupta is completed a few minutes later, with Yadav's produce going for Rs 3,360 per quintal, the maximum price quoted by oil millers and traders gathered in the platform.
"It's not only farmers. We, too, lose when they don't get a good rate, as our 2.25 per cent commission is on the purchase price," notes Gupta. He does not expect prices to rise anytime soon for two reasons. The first is increased production. Rajasthan is expected to harvest a record 40.81 lakh tonnes (lt) of rapeseed-mustard this year, compared to 34.01 lt in 2017-18, 38.08 lt in 2016-17 and 32.58 lt in 2015-16. The output in 2018-19 is higher despite farmers planting 24.15 lakh hectares (lh) area under the oilseed, which, although more than last year's 21.83 lh, is below the 25.03 lh of 2016-17 and 25.32 lh of 2015-16.
The second reason is the Centre not raising import duties on edible oil. The Union Agriculture Ministry has pegged India's overall rapeseed-mustard production for 2018-19 at an all-time-high of 83.97 million tonnes (mt), as against last year's 75.40 mt. Yet, the effective import duty on crude rapeseed oil has been kept at 38.5% since last June 2018, while even being slashed from 48.40% to 44% for crude palm oil and from 59.4% to 49.5% for refined palmolein.
Yadav is convinced about Gupta's explanation for why sarson prices are low this time. He, then, launches a diatribe against governments - how they care least for the zamindar - while dismissing the Narendra Modi government's Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana. Yadav isn't eligible for the scheme, which gives an annual cash assistance of Rs 6,000 to farmers with less than five-acres holding. "Even if I were to get it, what is Rs 6,000 when the registration process itself will cost almost Rs 1,000. The patwari, too, will not forward the land documents required for verification without charging Rs 200-500. The zamindar wants a remunerative price for his produce, nothing more," he points out.
Yet, when asked whom he would vote for in the current Lok Sabha elections, Yadav's response is instant: "Who else but Modi? Hamein to kuch nahi mila, magar desh ka naam to hua na (We didn't get anything, but he has earned our country a name in the world)".
Away from the auction yards, a shed in the opposite corner of the mandi is relatively empty. This is from where the Rajasthan State Co-operative Marketing Federation Ltd (RAJFED) is procuring sarson at the official MSP of Rs 4,200 per quintal. The Congress-led state government has set a target of purchasing 8.5 lt in the ongoing marketing season.
Satish Gawala, who cultivates 7 bigha out of his joint family's total 15 bigha (9.4 acres) holding near Kotkasim in Alwar district, complains that RAJFED's procurement is limited to only 25 quintals, while is also linked to the Bhamashah card made in the name of the lady of the household. "So, if land is cultivated by different people within the same joint family, not more than 25 quintals of their aggregate produce can be sold to the government. As a result, a significant part of our crop has to be sold to private players at throwaway rates," states Gawala, whose family's combined harvest this year is about 60 quintals.
Farmers, moreover, prefer selling to private traders because even if RAJFED does procure, it releases payments in not less than two months. "Who can wait for so long? Does the zamindar not need money to pay off his loans and meet other immediate expenses?," asks Gawala. A Jat, who likes Modi, he is, however, more inclined to vote for the Congress. That decision is influenced more by the party fielding former Union Minister Bhanwar Jitendra Singh, who, he thinks, will work better for the development of Alwar than the BJP's Baba Balaknath ("an outsider"). On the other hand, Rohitash Meghwal, a six-bigha Dalit farmer from Baghana village in Kotkasim tehsil, is a committed Congress voter.
"Cultivating sarson costs us at least Rs 10,000 per bigha. With four quintals per bigha yield, what return does a price of Rs 3,360 give?", avers Yadav. But neither his nor Gawala's or Meghwal's electoral choices seem to be significantly influenced by the prevailing rates for mustard.
When asked why farmers can't be paid better prices, Mohan Lal Gupta, purchasing officer of Jai Vishnu Oil Mill, has a ready answer: For every quintal of mustard seed crushed, 40 kg of oil and 60 kg of de-oiled cake is produced. Currently, mustard oil is being sold from mills at about Rs 77 per kg, while Rs 18 per kg for cake. The gross realisation, thus, works out to Rs 4,160, which is below the MSP of Rs 4,200 per quintal. After deducting market expenses, loading, transport, storage and processing charges, the oil mill can just about pay Rs 3,400-3,500 per quintal now.
While all that seems rational, it's another matter that the consumer is still shelling out Rs 120 for a litre (or Rs 130/kg) of kacchi ghani mustard oil.