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Rabi procurement: Stand-off continues over direct payments to Punjab farmers


Commencement of rabi procurement is just a week away (expected April 10), but no end is in sight to the stand-off between the Centre and the Punjab government over direct payments for the foodgrains procured. Ironically, nobody, including farmers who are ostensibly the beneficiaries of the direct money transfer, is happy with the move.

The Ministry of Consumer Affair, Food and Public Distribution had informed the Punjab government that DBT to farmers is mandatory for the coming rabi wheat procurement season. However, the State has refused to implement it, and has sought appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the issue and defer the scheme for at least one year.

Arhtiyas opposed to move

Arhtiyas, or commission agents, in Punjab are up in arms against the move. According to them, it is aimed at destroying APMC (Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee) mandis and giving everything on a platter to private players, whom the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre wants to promote.

“The current system of payment ( through commission agents) has been in place for the last 50 years and has worked well. Even farmers do not have any complaints about it. We have been paying down to the last penny to farmers promptly,” said Vijay Kalra, President, Federation of Arhtiya Association of Punjab. Arhtiyas plan to hold a major protest meet in Moga on Monday, in which many farmers leaders are also expected to participate.

Cumbersome for farmers

Balbir Singh Rajewal, President, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal), said the move is not in favour of farmers in the State. “It is going to make it cumbersome for farmers to sell their produce at procurement centres. Each time a farmer takes the produce to the mandi, he has to produce proof of his landholding. Nearly 40 per cent of land in Punjab is owned by absentee landlords who have given their land to tenants for cultivation. Though the Centre argues that such tenants can register their contracts with landlords in order to get the DBT, how many landlords would come forward as they will fear losing their holdings to tenants who have been tilling the land for many years,” asked Rajewal.

He said the DBT issue came up a few years ago when Parkash Singh Badal was the Chief Minister. “When that government sought the opinion of farmers on this issue, only three farmers supported it. The farmers have confidence in commission agents, who have been making payments to them promptly,” Rajewal told BusinessLine.

According to Kalra, insistence of land records as proof led to 22 per cent less paddy procurement in Haryana in the previous kharif season.The move, he says, is only an attempt to dismantle the Food Corporation of India so that private companies can take its place. Farmers across the country will hold demonstrations against any move to scrap the FCI, Rajewal added.

‘Wrong timing’

Another farmer leader, said the timing of the Centre was wrong, even though he was not entirely against the idea. “It is being implemented in the midst of a farmer agitation. Secondly, there should have been a lead time of at least six months for bringing such a drastic change, not just one month as is the case now,” he said.

Gurdeep Kamra of the Commission Agents Association in Haryana, which implemented the scheme this year, said the DBT will not work and Haryana would see a large number of farmers hitting the street as payments are not going to be smooth.

“While arhtiyas would get 2.5 per cent commission for the services they offer such as procurement, their involvement in procurement is going to be limited in the new system. Earlier, arhtiyas used to ensure the quality of grains they procured. But now on they will procure whatever the farmers bring in. If the quality of grains is inferior (such as high moisture levels) their payments may get stuck, leading to major disgruntlement among farmers,” Kamra said, expressing confidence that the State would revert to the earlier system from very next year.


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