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DateLine Sunday, 17 February 2008

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Government Gazette

Government should break paddy, rice monopoly

When the `Sunday Observer' interviewed people about their views on the high prices of rice in the open market, a wholesale rice dealer in the Pettah market Jayamani Shanmugaraja wanted the Government to fix a control price on rice, so that no trader could get undue profits. Here are the excerpts of the interview.

A businessman, K. Thambiraja said the Government could maintain the rice price at a fair rate throughout the year, if they a pay reasonable price for paddy cultivators.

"I think the lack of state owned paddy purchasing centres in the rice producing areas is also another problem to our farmers at the time they want to sell their stuff,".

A large scale rice seller in Colombo, Gopalan Ratnam said that rice was sold by everybody in the Pettah market at the normal rate and there was no monopoly in that.

"But there is a monopoly in the purchasing of paddy. We have come to know that certain rice mill owners stock large quantities during the harvesting seasons and sell them at exorbitant rates during off seasons.

When asked whether the traders in the Pettah rice market create shortages very often with the objective of increasing prices, a large scale rice seller, Sinnan Sathyaseelan denied and said that shortages are always created by rice mill owners and not by traders.

Jayamani Shanmugaraja said the Government could easily break the paddy purchasing monopoly by increasing the buying rates of paddy.

He also said a controlled price must be imposed on paddy as well as rice, so then even the rice mill owners will not sell their paddy at high prices.

Joseph Subramaniam wanted the Government to re-establish the Paddy Marketing Board in order to purchase paddy from growers.

"Then the Government can sell rice at reasonable prices,".

R. Balasubramaniam wanted the authorities to impose a controlled price on Paddy, so that no one could sell paddy beyond that amount.

Owner of a rice mill at Avissawella, Sumathipala Siriwardana asked why the Government cannot reinstate the Paddy Marketing Board and broaden the activities of Co-operatives to purchase paddy from growers.

"If the Paddy Marketing Board is instituted again, it will be a relief to paddy cultivators."

A wholesale rice seller in the Pettah market, Amresh Vedanayagam wanted the Government to appoint a high powered authority to check at what cost the major rice mill owners purchase paddy from growers during the harvesting season and also the selling price of the same paddy to small scale rice mill owners soon after the season is over.

"If such a mechanism is carried out regularly, then, the so called major rice mill owners will not be able to sell the paddy that they stocked during the season at exorbitant rates,"

Businessman, Kumudu Satharasinghe of Kaluaggala said the paddy harvesting season was coming closer and the price of all varieties will come down.

"My argument is on what basis the price of the same rice goes up again after three months of the harvesting season, so the major rice mill owners have to respond,".

Chairman, Paddy collectors union of Anuradhapura said the best thing the Government could do is to encourage paddy farmers to sell their stuff to co-operatives and not the private rice mill owners.

"Thereafter, it is the duty of the co-operatives to turn them into rice and sell at reasonable prices through co-operatives and Lak Sathosa outlets,".

Responding to a question of breaking the rice monopoly by encouraging the paddy growers to sell their harvest to co-operatives other than the private rice mill owners, a paddy distributor, Sudharshana Lokumanna of Hanwella said that that cannot be done easily.

He said when the Government announces a fixed price for paddy, the private sector announces a rate much higher than that.

He also said if the Government really wants to encourage rice farmers to deal only with co-operatives, then the Agricultural Department should introduce various welfare schemes, such as low interest bank loans to paddy cultivators and also their families.

Rice trader in the Pettah market, Bandusiri Arachchige said as long as private rice mill owners purchase paddy from cultivators at higher rates, the Government would never break the paddy and rice monopoly.

"Therefore, the best thing is to encourage paddy growers to sell their stuff to co-operatives at least by introducing innovative welfare schemes,"

"I remember during President R. Premadasa's period he sent some farmer organisation members to Kerala in India on agricultural study tours and provided interest free loans for farmer families to purchase agricultural equipment, so that they were compelled to sell their paddy to co-operatives and the Marketing Department paddy collecting centres,"

Housewife, Shiranth de Silva of Kollupitiya said as long as the relatives of several Parliamentarians were the owners of major rice mills in the country, the paddy and rice monopoly would never be broken.

She therefore, requested President Mahinda Rajapaksa to intervene and break the rice monopoly at least by imposing laws.

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