Bombay High Court asks cotton farmers to file their grievances on purchase lapses by govt

The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court on Tuesday asked all cotton farmers from Maharashtra to put forth their grievances regarding the lapses on part of the Maharashtra government and other relevant authorities including the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) and Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC).

The HC has ordered the state government to file a detailed affidavit regarding its policy for purchasing cotton from farmers and why it did not buy cotton from these farmers via offline mode. The HC has also ordered the government to purchase as much cotton as possible from farmers, even offline, before June 12. The petition was filed by Trymbakrao Ganpatrao Siral from Parbhani against Cotton Corporation of India, Belapur & others. He approached the court after the Parbhani Deputy Registrar of Cooperative Societies announced that the APMC will not buy cotton from those farmers who have not made online registrations.

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A bench of Justices Tanaji Nalawade and Shrikant Kulkarni passed the order while taking note of the plight of cotton farmers who were facing losses due to the delay on part of the authorities in purchasing their produce. In view of the circumstance that there were news items in newspapers and electronic media that more than 50% of the cotton of the farmers isn’t purchased by the respondents (CCI) this Court felt it was necessary to treat the proceeding as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).

The bench said, “This court is allowing farmers to put forth their grievance of any nature in respect to the policy adopted by the government for purchasing cotton. They can also voice their grievance if they have suffered a loss due to this policy. Farmers will have to also produce documents which show that they were compelled to sell cotton to private traders, as it was not purchased by the government, and thus, suffered losses.” The court assured the farmers that their names will not be disclosed.

The bench noted that farmers were given tokens by APMC and on the basis of these tokens the farmers were to sell the cotton at CCI’s procurement centres. However, there were allegations leveled by farmers that this token system was misused by the traders. “There is an allegation that the traders were purchasing cotton at lower rates than the rates fixed by the government. There is such a possibility. However, there is also another possibility of using the present online process, and virtually preventing farmers from selling cotton to the authorities at the support price,” the judges noted. The bench further said that if such was the case (online procurement), then farmers could have been compelled to sell cotton at lower rates to the traders.

The bench ordered the government to place on record the procedure adopted by the authorities for purchasing cotton from farmers, complaints received from farmers, funds made available for purchasing cotton and capacity of each centre created for purchasing cotton from farmers. “We would also like to know why the authorities did not procure cotton by using the offline mode. Let there be a detailed affidavit in this regard and till then the government must procure most of the cotton from farmers,” Justice Nalavade said while placing the matter for hearing on June 12.

When contacted, PK Agrawal, CMD, Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) stated that the CCI which is the main nodal agency for procurement of cotton in the country along with the Maharashtra Marketing Federation has been purchasing 70,000 to 80,000 quintals on a daily basis from farmers and nearly 23.5 lakh bales have been procured from Maharashtra so far. The CCI will do its best to purchase from small and marginal farmers and shall continue procurement till the onset of monsoon and continue the procurement after the monsoon as well, he said. According to him, only 6 lakh bales remain to be purchased. CCI has procured a record 98 lakh bales nationally and is expected to touch the 1 crore bales mark in the next 10 days, he said.

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