By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The booming black marketing of fertilizers in India has been a persistent problem that has worsened in recent years, on account of rising global prices of fertilizers, the supply disruptions during the pandemic, increased demand from the farmers, shortage for fertilizer, and the gap between the prices of subsidized fertilisers and that is available in the open market. Moreover, the recent seizure of 70,000 bags of spurious urea from Gujarat, Kerala, Haryana, Rajasthan and Karnataka shows that illegal business of spurious fertilizers in the country is also being carried out at massive scale.
The Central department of fertilizers have reportedly taken a multi-pronged measures to stop diversion and black marketing of fertilizers in the country, the measures taken so far is too little to curb it effectively. The dimension of the problem can just be imagined that in only 370 surprise inspections of the Fertilizer Flying Squads, about 70,000 spurious urea bags were seized. It then got 30 FIRs registered and 112 mixture manufacturers were deauthorised.
Cross-border smuggling of urea was another persistent problem. Smuggled urea was reaching the neighbouring countries in large quantities. The Centre has now claimed that proactive measures of the government have led to stoppage of cross-border smuggling of urea. “Consequently, for the first-time, neighbouring countries have sent urea import request to India,” Union government has said. As per the Union of the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers11 persons have been jailed under the Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies (PNM) Act.
Officials in the Union Ministry of Chemicals and fertilizers have said that multipronged measures are being taken by Department of Fertilizers for deterrence against any malpractices and ensuring quality fertilizers for the farmers, under the directions of Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers Dr Mansukh Mandaviya. These measures have resulted in averting diversion and black marketing of fertilizers in the country. Special teams of dedicated officers called Fertilizer Flying Squads (FFS) have been formed to keep a strict vigil and to check diversion, black marketing, hoarding and supply of sub-standard quality of fertilizers across the country.
However, the action taken so far is too little to control the problem. Only 370 surprise inspection that too in only 15 states and UTs is not going to solve the problem which is evident for the large quantity of seizure of spurious urea, and deauthorisation of 112 mixture manufacturers due to several discrepancies and lapses found in documentation and procedures.
The menace of spurious urea seems to be too large to handle. Though the sample testing has also been claimed to have ramped up, government has tested only 268 samples. Out of the samples tested 89 (33%) have been declared sub-standard and 120 (45%) found with neem oil content. It just indicates that there is a big market of spurious fertilizers in India. More samples need to be collected and tested regularly throughout the country.
Moreover, sending only 11 persons to jail in the last one years under Prevention of Blackmarketing and Maintenance of Supplies (PBM) Act for diversion and black marketing of urea in the last one year, is the outcome of only limited action. The number can be much more if Centre carries out more inspections across the country through more flying squads.
Several other legal and administrative proceedings have also been exercised by states through Essential commodities (EC) act and Fertilizer Control Order (FCO), but the black marketing of fertilisers and trade of spurious fertilisers continues, which is an open secret among the farmers of the country.
The chief reason of booming black marketing of urea is that a 45 kg bag of urea costing approximately Rs 2,500 is being sold to farmers for agricultural purposes at Rs 266 on subsidy. Farmers who are not able to get subsidized urea are compelled to purchase it on much higher rates from the market. Besides agriculture, urea is also used in many other industries too, like UF resin/glue, plywood, resin, crockery, moulding powder, cattle feed, dairy, industrial mining explosives. That is why there have been large scale illegal diversion of this highly subsidized urea meant for the farmers and agriculture for non-agriculture/industrial purpose by many private entities that results into its shortage for deserving farmers.
Government has been encouraging new innovative practices in farming, such as new mixture module that have been developed in Integrated Fertilize Management System (IFMS) by Department of Fertilizers. Theoretically, this would help in spreading awareness amongst farmers about the quality of fertilizers along with other online services available on the portal. However, in practical, ignorant and illiterate farmers are not able to get full benefit from this system. They need other measures for right awareness among them.
Government has said that strict vigil is now being undertaken for ensuring the quality of products as well as licenses. Due to such relentless efforts, there has been an increase in demand for Technical Grade Urea. Due to fewer licenses being issued by States for mixture manufacturing, many of the existing mixture manufacturing units have shifted to selling bio and organic fertilizers, thus promoting natural farming to reduce the consumption of chemical fertilizers. This approach must be subjected to regular monitoring, since the country cannot afford to risk its food security in the name of organic or natural farming.
Farmers are still enforced to either cut the use of fertilizers and risk lower production on account of sky-high prices in the black market. Spurious fertilizers are also reducing the yield impacting small and marginal farmers, who constitute 80 per cent of all farmers in the country. Pandemic and rising poverty have impacted their capacity to purchase fertilizers, while inflation has made the situation worse. Shortage of fertilizers in market have been regular phenomena in the country, though the Centre goes on denying it by telling the country of enough stock.
Obviously, there is something wrong with the availability of quality fertilizers in the market in enough quantities at affordable prices to farmers, which must be addressed through better and comprehensive strategy than the present one that Union Government has adopted. (IPA Service)