New Delhi, Apr 7: Congress president Sonia Gandhi has come out in support of farmers who have been hit hard by unseasonal rains and hailstorms.
On Tuesday, Sonia wrote a letter to Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan after reports of Food Corporation of India refusing to procure rain-damaged wheat from farmers on Rajasthan's Kota.
She asked the government to relax the specifications for procuring foodgrains, citing the "unprecedented crisis" being faced by farmers due to unseasonal rainfall and hailstorms in various parts of the country.
In a letter the Congress President said, "This extraordinary situation calls for a suspension of regulations, which are enforceable in ordinary conditions."
"Hence I request the government to relax specifications, specifically with regard to moisture content, for procurement. This shall provide small but significant relief to our farmers."
Gandhi said that there have been many precedents where the government had relaxed quality specifications for procurement in times of crisis.
"The UPA government continued that precedent and ensured exemptions for farmers during such grave occasions. I hope your ministry would do the same and provide requisite directives at the earliest," Gandhi said.
The Congress President said that it has been brought to her notice that the existing manual of the Food Corporation of India specifies that if the moisture content in the Rabi wheat crop exceeds 14 per cent, the government would reject procuring such wheat and additionally a discount would be levied if the moisture content is between 12 to 14 per cent.
"In normal circumstances, such specifications may hold, but over the past many weeks unseasonal rainfall and hailstorms have severely damaged the wheat crop. This is also a trigger for enhanced moisture content," Gandhi said.
The Congress President said that she has personally visited the affected areas and witnessed firsthand the acute distress that the farmers are facing.
"Several of them have been pushed to poverty overnight and are staring at bankruptcy. Therefore given the unprecedented crisis, very little wheat will qualify for procurement under the existing manual for procurement.
"These are difficult days for farmers and not being able to sell their produce defeats the very purpose of guaranteeing a minimum support price to farmers.
Though the Minimum Support Price (MSP) fixed by the government does not reflect true costs, a complete denial of MSP will compound the existing problems for our farmers," she said.
The Congress President's letter comes days after she visited BJP ruled states like Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh to meet farmers affected by the unseasonal rains and hail storms.
The party is also organising a rally in Delhi on April 19 on issues related to farmers including the land bill.
(With agency inputs)