A flurry of activity yesterday afternoon set the Local Supply Depot at Mohonpur apart from other depots in Rajshahi.
While farmers were found reluctant to take paddy to most depots, some half a dozen labourers were seen at the Mohonpur depot, unloading sacks of paddy from a truck.
Abul Kalam Azad, the officer-in-charge of the depot, said a farmer, Ataur Rahman, had brought the truck loaded with 200 sacks of paddy, weighing two tonnes, to selling to the government depot.
The official then introduced Ataur Rahman. Clad in pair of a jeans, white T-shirt and a sneaker, Rahman showed his Agricultural Input Assistance Card as proof of his pro-fession.
He said he was an activist of Bakshimoil Jubo League, the youth wing of the Awami league, and had a retail shop at a local market where he sold rice.
Although the depot official claimed Ataur was selling two tonnes of paddy on his own, Ataur said two other Jubo League members also owned a share of the paddy.
Moreover, the official said the paddy they were taking into the depot yesterday would be shown registered as procured on Sunday.
Any entry into depots without stock registration is considered illegal, although officers can keep stocks of paddy for the farmer's benefit. Without an entry being made, however, the seller does not get any payment.
In this instance, Ataur was yet to be paid.
When asked why Ataur's paddy was not registered, Azad said the day's procurement report was already made at 3:00pm.
Surprisingly, apart from Ataur, all of the five persons who had sold some 11 tonnes of paddy to the depot till yesterday belonged to various wings of the ruling Awami League.
The five include Taslim Uddin of Bakshimoil, who was seen supervising the unloading of Ataur's paddy sacks.
Taslim identified himself as the president of his union's Krishak League unit and said all other four paddy sellers belonged to the group.
Asir Uddin, Abdur Jabbar, Shafikul Islam and Abu Bakar Siddik of Mougachhi union -- the other sellers -- were all supporters of the Awami League and activists of Krishak League and Jubo League.
"We purchased the 11 tonnes of paddy during inauguration function of the sale of paddy]," the officer said.
The depot has so far procured 41 tonnes of paddy against a target of 2,012 tonnes in Rajshahi.
According to the officials at the depot, they are procuring 50 kilogrammes to three tonnes of paddy from each farmer, provided they could furnish their agriculture input assistance card, NID and bank account details.
While the depot at Mohonpur was full of activity, when this correspondent visited depots at Boalia, Nawhata and Tanore, a lack of paddy supply was seen. Officials at the depot said farmers were visiting them with samples, but few were coming to actually sell product.
At Nawhata depot, some paddy was seen being dried. The officials said two farmers had left those to dry so they could attain the acceptable level of moisture after which it would be purchased by the depot.
"If we see some moisture on the paddy, we ask them [the farmers] to dry the paddy for a full day and then bring it to us," an official said.
Elsewhere at Boalia and Tanore government depots, not a single grain of paddy was procured till yesterday.
Back at Mohonpur, an altogether different picture presented itself after talking to some farmers.
None of the farmers from the village of Mahishkundu went to the Mohonpur depot to sell their rice.
Abul Kalam Azad, the in-charge, said there were thousands of farmers in the upazila. But they would not be able to buy crops from more than 100 farmers.
"We cannot make everybody happy," he said, adding they would conduct a campaign among the farmers on Sunday.
LOW PRICES, POLTICAL SYNDICATE HURTING 'REAL' FARMERS
Despite a better price being offered at the government depots -- Tk 1,040 per maund compared to the market price of Tk 620 -- most of the farmers interviewed said they were not going to the depots to avoid harassment.
They claimed the depot did not want to purchase rice from them and would force them to make two or three trips there using one excuse or another.
"We sell paddy at local markets," said Abul Kashem, a farmer who had grown paddy on seven bighas of land at Mohishkundi village in Tanore upazila.
He said the depot officials never found their paddy suitable for purchase.
Local farmers alleged that a syndicate of officials, rice traders and politicians were controlling the procurement and they were not letting real farmers sell paddy to govern-ment depots.
Nazmul Haque, district controller of food, however, said the government was keeping a close eye on the situation and it was not possible for any syndicate to supply rice to the government food godowns.
"Actually there is no such syndicate. We are going to buy rice from general farmers from next Sunday. We will conduct a campaign about it," he said.
Talking to farmers from Tanore and Mohonpur upazila, it was found that most farmers were frustrated as the market price of their product was less than the production cost.
Abul Kashem, a farmer from Mohishkundi village in Mohonpur upazila, cultivated rice in six bighas of land in Kumari bil and harvested 118 maunds.
He sold 16 maunds of rice at Tk 720 a maund at a local haat last Saturday. But his neighbour Abdul Salam Mandal sold two maunds of rice on Wednesday at Tk 650, at least Tk 300 less than the production cost.
Abul Kashem said it cost around Tk 960 to produce a maund of rice.
From ploughing the land to harvesting the paddy, the costs came to around Tk 17,000 to 18,000 to get 18 to 20 maunds of rice.
The government price for 18 maunds of paddy is Tk 18,720 while its market price was only Tk 13,500.
Abdul Salam Mandal of Mahishkundu village said that he felt miserable after selling two maunds of rice at lower than his production cost. He was forced to accept the low price in order to pay the labourers who worked on his land.
"Please write something, so that the government increases the rice price. Otherwise, farmers will die," shouted Abdul Salam Mandal as these correspondents were leaving their village.