Division in the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab on whether the system of procurement of food grains for central pool should be handled by private commission agents or directly by Food Corporation of India surfaced in Parliament with two party leaders speaking against each other.
While Harsimrat Kaur Badal, daughter-in-law of Punjab chief minister and wife of his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal, on Tuesday strongly pitched for commission agents or arhatiyas, her senior Akali colleague Rattan Singh Ajnala pleaded with the Union government to save poor farmers from the clutches of these agents.
"The major problem is that poor farmers are suffering a lot from the commission agents. They are taking even 20% interests from poor farmers.So, I would like to know what the Government is doing to save the poor farmers from the clutches of the commission agents," said Ajnala during the Question Hour in Lok Sabha.
Describing the existing procurement infrastructure, including 22,000 commission agents in Punjab as efficient and effective, Harsimrat pointed out that these agents helped FCI purchase 100 lakh tonne wheat and 150 lakh tonne rice from 15 lakh farmers at 1,800 centres across the state within one month. It is this unmatched infrastructure which provides almost half of food grains which feeds the nation.
Further pitching for the agents, she said it were these middlemen who helped poor farmers unload their heap of crops, clean, weigh, pack it and filled out documents, sold it to FCI and then transport produce to the FCI godowns.
When Union food minister KV Thomas said that the Centre wanted direct procurement from farmers and payment by cheques to them to ensure that he got the genuine minimum support price, Harsimrat Badal retorted that commission agents in Punjab too made payment to farmers by cheque and so there was no question of the farmer not getting the MSP.
Thomas, who first tried to wriggle out from her verbal assault by saying it was for the Punjab government to decide whether to continue with the system of commission agents or not, later got support from an unlikely quarter when her senior party colleague Dr Ajnala came down hammer and tongs on the agents.