New Delhi: Facing a boycott of procurement by exporters in Punjab and Haryana, the government has agreed to re-examine its recent ban on exports of non-basmati rice.

“The government is examining the matter. If there is a strong case for rolling back the ban, it will be done. We will not let the farmers suffer," said a senior official at the food ministry, who did not wish to be identified. However, the same official added that the chances of non-basmati long grain coming into the central pool is much higher if it is not exported. Non-basmati long-grain rice, especially the Sharbati variety, has been finding its way into the central pool for some years.

Exporters, however, hold that superior varieties should be exempted from the blanket ban on non-basmati export.

“One point is that exporters do procure paddy from many areas where the government agencies don’t even exist. The prices paid there might be lower, but if we weren’t there, then they wouldn’t even get that price," said a rice exporter who did not wish to be identified.

Protesting against the blanket ban on non-basmati rice, exporters and traders in Punjab and Haryana have been boycotting purchase of paddy for the past few days.

The All India Rice Exporters Association (Airea) has asked the ministry to rethink the ban on superior quality non-basmati, such as Pusa-1121 and Sharbati, which are not procured by the Food Corporation of India (FCI). Farmers in Haryana have, meanwhile, been protesting against the ban through road and railway blockades.

“The ban is fine, we are not opposing that. But right now, farmers are sleeping on their bags of rice in the mandis. We suggest that rice which sells at more than Rs16 a kg should be allowed for export," said Vijay Setia, president, Airea.

Prices for Pusa-1121 and Sharbati have gone down by about Rs100 per quintal in the past week. Before the ban, farmers were selling Pusa-1121 at around Rs2,000 per quintal and Sharbati at Rs1,700 a quintal. “All exporters and about 90% of the millers in Punjab and Haryana are boycotting purchase and we will continue to do so till the ban is amended," added Setia.

Airea has asked the ministry of commerce to establish a minimum export price (MEP) for rice at $400 (Rs15,920), which would help the government check and control the pilferage of rice meant for the public distribution system (PDS). “An MEP can work as a good interim measure and we are not disagreeing with it at present," said Karan Chanana, managing director of rice exporter Amira Foods India Ltd, who had earlier opposed an MEP.

At present, there is no MEP for rice.

“We are recommending $400 but if the government thinks a higher MEP is justified then we are fine with it," added Setia. The association’s meeting last week with Kamal Nath, minister for commerce, however, was inconclusive.

FCI says private traders are, in fact, procuring more this year than last year.

“Arrivals are increasing and this year 25% of purchases have been by private traders whereas last year it was 18%," according to chairman of FCI Alok Sinha.

According to a spokesman in Punjab, out of the total procurement of 8,283,197 tonnes of paddy in that state, government agencies have procured 79.5% till date, whereas millers have lifted 1.69 million tonnes, or 20.5% of paddy.

Airea has also requested the ministry of commerce to allow consignments, which have been loaded at ports, to be allowed to be exported.

FCI officials will be visiting areas in Punjab this week to take stock of the situation.