The booming black marketing of fertilisers in India has been a persistent problem that has worsened in recent years, on account of rising global prices of fertilisers, the supply disruptions during the pandemic, increased demand from the farmers, shortage of fertiliser, 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 the illegal business of spurious fertilisers in the country is also being carried out at a massive scale. The Central Department of Fertilisers have reportedly taken multi-pronged measures to stop the diversion and black marketing of fertilisers in the country, but the measures taken so far are too little to curb it effectively. The dimension of the problem can just be imagined that in only 370 surprise inspections of the Fertiliser Flying Squads, about 70,000 spurious urea bags were seized. It then got 30 FIRs registered and 112 mixture manufacturers were de-authorised.
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 the stoppage of cross-border smuggling of urea. “Consequently, for the first time, neighbouring countries have sent urea import requests to India,” the Union government has said. As per the Union of the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers, 11 persons have been jailed under the Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies (PNM) Act. Officials in the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers have said that multipronged measures are being taken by the Department of Fertilisers for deterrence against any malpractices and to ensure quality fertilisers for the farmers, under the directions of the Union minister for chemicals and fertilisers Dr Mansukh Mandaviya. These measures have resulted in averting the diversion and black marketing of fertilisers in the country. Special teams of dedicated officers called Fertiliser Flying Squads (FFS) have been formed to keep a strict vigil and to check diversion, black marketing, hoarding and supply of substandard quality fertilisers across the country.
The menace of spurious urea seems to be too large to handle. Though the sample testing has also been claimed to have ramped up, the government has tested only 268 samples. Out of the samples tested 89 (33%) have been declared substandard and 120 (45%) were found with neem oil content. It just indicates that there is a big market for spurious fertilisers in India. More samples need to be collected and tested regularly throughout the country. Moreover, sending only 11 persons to jail in the last year under the Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies (PBM) Act for the diversion and black marketing of urea in the last year is the outcome of only limited action. The number can be much more if the Centre carries out more inspections across the country through more flying squads. There is something wrong with the availability of quality fertilisers in the market in enough quantities at affordable prices to farmers, which must be addressed through a better and more comprehensive strategy than the present one that the Union government has adopted.