Prices of agricultural commodities could double within first few months of next year as harvesting and new cultivation has come to a near standstill in West Bengal. The situation, if it continues, may lead to serious law and order problems, agricultural scientists in the state have said.

As workers could not be paid because of shortage of currency notes, harvesting could be done in only one million hectares out of about 4.3 million hectares where paddy had been cultivated. Also, potato could so far be cultivated in only 40 per cent of the targeted land.

Worried agriculture department officials have told the Reserve Bank of India that if cash was not made available to the farmers, prices would skyrocket from early next year and unmanageable political turmoil could erupt in the districts. The RBI, however, has not been able to give any assurance to the state government.

According agriculture department officials, who talked with Observe24x7 over telephone on Thursday, the cost for paddy from harvesting to storing the produce, is around Rs 7000 per bigha (7.5 bighas = one hectare). “After the ban (on Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes) the farmers can’t make labour payments. In some areas the paddy is dropping off from the plants and will soon start to rot,” one of them said.

What has further aggravated the problem is the fact that of about 37,600 villages in West Bengal there are no banks in 34,000. Also, most of the rural branches, particularly the cooperative banks, are facing acute shortage of currency notes.

Potato cultivation in West Bengal is done between November 7 and November 15. About Rs 20,000 per hectare is required for purchase of seeds and fertilizers, hiring of tractors, labour payment etc.

“Last year, potato production was about 95 lakh MT. Because of good monsoon and irrigation this year, our target was raised to 130 lakh MT. We will go nowhere near the target. Price of potato might reach Rs 50 a kilo. Prices of rice, mustard and pulses will also shoot up manifold,” another officer said.

At an emergency meeting held at Nabanna on Wednesday, the senior central government officials were urged to set up special camps in the villages to distribute seeds to farmers on an emergency basis.

RBI representatives were asked to send banking correspondents and mobile banking units to the villages so that people could get some cash. They were also urged to ensure adequate cash flow to rural banks. RBI officials, however, said nothing could be done till they themselves got currency notes in adequate quantity.