The state government may have dismissed the visits of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to Punjab’s grain markets on Tuesday as political drama but his party said it got the wheat procurement machinery moving.
After Rahul left Punjab, the state government announced that it would disburse `4,000 crore among farmers within 24 hours; and field officers received orders to settle wheat payments and ship the grain out of the choked mandis as quickly as possible. The promised `4,000 crore is part of the cash credit limit of `14,640 crore received from the Centre in early April for the procurement of wheat.
“On getting to know that Rahul was coming, the government panicked. Still, it took an entire day to react,” said a procurement officer. Next day, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), tried to find out from the state machinery what could be done to reduce the impact. As the issue of farmers was to be discussed in the Union cabinet, the Punjab government remained in touch with the PMO, waiting for instructions against value cut and for further easing the quality norms for procurement.
On April 22, after being told to impose value cut on account of damaged grain, the Parkash Singh Badal government in Punjab had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to drop the clause of value cut. Food and civil supplies minister Adaish Partap Singh Kairon also had been following the developments.
Much to the relief of the state government, the Union cabinet decided on Wednesday evening to bear the value cut.
Rahul has told Punjab farmers that he would visit them again and again until their issues were resolved. “On Wednesday, procurement officials were in an overdrive in the mandis that Rahul had visited on Tuesday,” said Congress legislator Kuljit Singh Nagra, adding: “The state agencies were filling wheat in gunny bags on Tuesday and moving it for storage. Officials from the police, civil administration as well as food department remained in the three mandis as long as Rahul was there.
The food and civil supplies department officials claimed on the other hand that procurement had rather suffered because of the VIP visit. “Junior staff and farmers were not allowed to stay in the mandis for security reasons,” said a senior officer in the department, adding: “Politicians should not visit mandis, so that procurement can continue smoothly.”