Why is there a shortage of fertilisers in Bihar?

Why is there a shortage of fertilisers in Bihar?

Fifteen farmers from Kishanganj, Araria and Purnea districts in Bihar explain why there has been a shortage of fertilisers in key districts in the state from mid-December to mid-January. Read this exclusive news report from Tanzil Asif.
First Published: Jan 17,2023 06:42PM
by Tanzil Asif

Last Updated on January 17, 2023

Farmer Dinesh Kumar Singh from Purnea spraying urea in his field | Photo courtesy: Tanzil Asif | Main Media

The issue of shortage of fertilisers in Bihar kept resonating from the winter session of the Bihar Legislative Assembly to the Parliament session last December. Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have consistently denied reports of a shortage of fertilisers in the country, while the opposition has been putting the government in the dock over the issue. 

Over the last month, we met 15 farmers from Kishanganj, Araria and Purnea districts of Bihar to understand the fertiliser crisis. These days the farmers of Seemanchal are busy cultivating maize and wheat. But, like last year, this time too, they are troubled by the shortage of fertilisers.

Urea Available At Double, Triple Rate

Mohammed Shabbir, a farmer from the Purnia district of Bihar, has cultivated maize in five bighas of his land. Shabbir has moved from pillar to post in many markets around his village Belgachhi in Dagarua block, and says fertilisers are not available anywhere. He contends that the private players have exploited this crisis and have started selling fertilisers two times the government rate. For Shabbir’s family of ten members, who depend entirely on agricultural income for their livelihood – this winter has been a dark one.

Manoj Paswan, another farmer from Narpatganj in Araria district, has irrigated his two acres of land by planting maize. He says that today he wanders from door to door for two bags of urea. “With great difficulty, I finally got a bag of urea, but I had to pay more than three times the government rate for it. The government price for a 45 kg urea bag is Rs 266.50,” he states.

Last Year Was No Better

Last year too, there was a similar shortage of fertilisers in the Seemanchal region during the rabi crop season. Because of this, Mohammed Shabbir and Dilip Ram’s farm income was reduced to less than half.

Days ago, when the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers, Dr Mansukh Mandaviya, was asked in the Parliament about crowding in fertiliser shops, he called it an etiquette-related issue. “If at one place fertilisers are available, can a group of people get inside at once and get them? To get the fertilisers, you must stand in a queue and wait for your turn. It is a matter of etiquette,” said the minister.

Black Marketing Of Fertilisers

Farmers of Narpatganj allege that fertilisers are being black-marketed in broad daylight in the area. Shopkeepers are selling fertilisers at double and triple the market rates from the comforts of their homes. We have been told that shopkeepers in the border areas have been selling fertilisers in Nepal, where fertilisers costing Rs.266 are being sold for up to Rs.1,200. Farmers allege black-marketing as one of the main reasons for fertiliser shortage in their respective villages.

However, when approached, shopkeepers who sell fertilisers were scared to comment on record against the blooming black-market industry in the region. On condition of anonymity, some shopkeepers told us that apart from the National Fertilisers Limited (NFL), none of the other companies pay rent to transport fertilisers from the racks to the shops because of which it gets challenging to sell urea at a fixed rate, i.e. Rs.266/bag. To compensate for this additional expense, shopkeepers often try to sell fertilisers at Rs.340 or more.

On the other hand, the villagers of Kishanganj, bordering West Bengal, face a different problem. The farmers of these areas depend only on the markets of West Bengal, but many a time, they are forced to pay fines for bringing fertilisers to Bihar from the markets there. In the last winter session of the Parliament, the local MP, Dr Jawed Azad, raised this matter in the Lok Sabha.

Counter Charges

Union Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary, who was on a visit to Seemanchal last December, in a press conference accused the Bihar government itself of black marketing of urea. In an interview published in Dainik Bhaskar newspaper on December 31, Bihar Agriculture Minister Kumar Sarvjeet said that the central government was supplying fewer fertilisers than required in Bihar. To discuss the matter, he sought an appointment with the Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers but claimed that he was not given a window for a meeting with the minister even after three months of the request. Further, he argued that the central government allocates fertilisers, but as part of a conspiracy, fertilisers are not supplied at peak times and post the peak time, fertilisers are made available to the allottees.

Nano Urea

On the other hand, amidst the shortage of fertilisers, the central government is encouraging farmers to use liquid urea, i.e. ‘nano urea’ made by Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO). Recently, Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya enumerated many benefits of Nano Urea in Parliament, but the farmers using it claim that they are not satisfied with the outcome.

This story was first published in Hindi by Main Media. To read the Hindi version of the original story, pls click.

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