Kochi | The ruling Left government in Kerala found itself in a spot on Thiruvonam day when actor Jayasurya criticised it over the prolonged delay in payment to farmers for their agricultural produce by the state's civil supplies corporation, SupplyCo.
At an agriculture-related event organised at Kalamassery on Tuesday that was attended by state Agriculture Minister P Prasad and Kerala Industries Minister P Rajeev, the actor said that one of the biggest problems facing farmers in the state was the lack of timely payment for crops procured from them.
Referring to the situation of one of his actor friends whose source of livelihood is agriculture, Jayasurya said that his friend has not yet been paid by the SupplyCo for the rice grains given to them by him more than five months ago.
"He (the friend) is sitting on a fast on Thiruvonam to bring this situation to the attention of those in authority," the actor said at the event.
Jayasurya also said that the coming generation cannot be blamed for its lack of interest in getting clothes dirty by foraying into agriculture.
"You cannot blame them for that. When the coming generation sees their parents starving or on a fast on Thiruvonam day, why or how can they even think of foraying into farming?" the actor asked.
Thiruvonam is the most auspicious day of the 10-day-long harvest festival.
Responding to the contentions, Minister Rajeev, at the same event, said that foodgrains are procured from farmers under the public distribution system, and part of the payment due to them is supposed to come from the Centre.
"The payment from the Central government always comes after considerable delay of several months or even a year. Therefore, the practice we followed was to pay the entire amount, including the Centre's share, to the farmers by taking loans," the minister said.
Rajeev said that this time around there were some limitations or difficulties with regard to borrowings by the state and therefore, the farmers could not be paid on time.
Despite the difficulties, the state has disbursed around Rs 2,200 crore to farmers as payment for their crops, he claimed.
The minister also said that in order to prevent it from happening again, a ministerial-level committee has been set up to formulate a plan to ensure farmers are paid immediately on collection of their produce.
In addition to the delay in payment to farmers, another issue highlighted by the actor was the poor quality of vegetables and foodgrains in the state.
Claiming that people were scared to eat vegetables as they were sprayed with poisonous chemicals, the actor alleged that there was no quality checking mechanism for agricultural produce sold here.
He also alleged that the foodgrains sold in the state were of second and third quality as the first quality items were earmarked for export.
"Why is that? Are we not eligible to get first quality items? Will we not pay for it? I was told this was happening as there was no quality checking mechanism for agricultural produce sold here," Jayasurya alleged.
He said that the priority of the government should be to set up a quality checking system.
On this issue, Rajeev responded that steps were being taken to bring in such a system and the government was planning to start with testing of coconut oil.
The minister said that soon labs will be in place, under the Health Department, for testing vegetables and other agricultural produce.
On Wednesday, the state government claimed that many of the actor's claims were not factually correct.
While it admitted there was a delay in payment to farmers for their produce, the government said it was taking steps to ensure the farmers do not face any difficulties.
It also reiterated what Rajeev had said a day ago on the issue.