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HindustanTimes Thu,17 Apr 2014

Mandi board's top brass not in unison

Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, October 04, 2013
First Published: 01:21 IST(4/10/2013) | Last Updated: 01:23 IST(4/10/2013)

There are few takers for the Punjab government's policy of paying the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy directly to farmers, bypassing arhtiyas (commission agents).

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It has almost been two months since a government notification (July 13) gave the option to farmers for receiving payment for their crop directly from procurement agencies. So far, only 621 farmers have got themselves registered.

The top two officers of the Punjab state agriculture marketing board (commonly known as the Mandi Board)   chairman Ajmer Singh Lakhowal and vice-chairman Ravinder Singh Cheema   have a difference of opinion over the issue of direct payment.

Lakhowal, who heads a faction of the state-level Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), says the system would take some time to be successful, while Cheema, who heads the state-level arhtiyas' body, says farmers can't survive without arhtiyas. Despite being poles apart, both say they work for a common goal - farmers' welfare   and have a common leader in Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.

HT asked four questions to both officers:

Ajmer Singh Lakhowal

Why less takers?
Any new policy or law takes time to percolate to the people. This is the first procurement season. It will pick up in three to four years. The agriculture department should reach out to farmers about the benefits of direct payment.

Can farmers function in isolation?
We are looking for measures to end farmers' dependence on arhtiyas. We are trying that banks offer easy loans to farmers. Arhtiyas charge very high rate of interest and we have been successful in bringing the rate for crop loan down to 4%.

Is your difference of opinion with subordinate (Cheema) affecting work?
He is my junior. He has no powers, so his presence in the board doesn't make any difference. I take all decisions, making him a party. I consider Parkash Singh Badal as my leader, under whom we both are working for the state's benefit.

Is direct payment a better option?
It's the need of the hour that farmers be taken out of the clutches of money lenders who charge hefty rate of interest. Farmers who work hard need to be empowered.


Ravinder Singh Cheema

Why less takers?
The model excluding arhtiyas would never be successful. The number of farmers who have got themselves registered is minuscule. Those registered are associated with kisan unions.

Can farmers function in isolation?
There are 2 lakh landless farmers and 3 lakh small farmers in Punjab who are dependent on arhtiyas. Disbursement to 17 lakh farmers individually is practically impossible. 21,799 arhtiyas, with whom these farmers are connected, help government agencies in making crop payment.

Is your difference of opinion with senior (Lakhowal) affecting work?
As far as work is concerned, our focus is on the welfare of farmers, the mandate given by Parkash Singh Badal.

Is direct payment a better option?
No. There is no provision in banks or financial institutions for giving loan to landless farmers; banks give loans only by taking property as mortgage. Farmers' bond with arhtiyas is the backbone of agricultural system; it can't be severed.


Fast facts

Rs 23,670 crore Sanctioned by union government as limited MSP for procurement of paddy crop
135 lakh tones Paddy expected to be procured in current kharif season
Rs 1,345 per quintal MSP announced on paddy
1795 Procurement centres in state
621 Farmers registered for direct payment
118 Farmers from Amritsar district who have got themselves registered for direct payment; none from Sangrur, Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib and Fazilka districts


 

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