the Food Corporation of India ( fci ), the official procurement agency of the government of India, has rejected about 80 per cent of paddy from Punjab on the grounds that it was substandard. However, under pressure from the farmer's lobby, the government has relaxed the paddy procurement laws. The Union government, too, has released Rs 350 crore for the procurement of the substandard rice.
"Rice cultivation in the state has been affected by a fungus called Helminthosporium oryzae ,' says S S Grewal, fci 's joint manager. "The fungal disease was noticed last year but it has become widespread this year,' adds D P Reddy, fci 's senior regional manager. The fungus was the reason behind the failure of rice crop which led to famine of 1942-43. B D Singh of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi, says: "The killer disease can cause heavy losses. A proper investigation is needed to find out its cause.'
G S Khush, agricultural scientist and renowned expert on rice, fears that the early sowing of rice in May this year is responsible for the current situation. He says that the high temperature and humidity during this season has affected crop yield. He suggest that the government should come up with a policy to give incentives to farmers to switch to less water-intensive crops.