The Congress has come under fire from farmers' unions and agricultural experts for supporting the arhtiya system that involves middlemen and commission agents in the sale of produce.
A delegation of State Arhtiya Association led by union minister and Patiala MP Preneet Kaur, Sangrur MP Vijayinder Singla and other Congress MPs had met the union minister for consumer affairs KV Thomas and urged him to take a lenient view of arhtiyas as they were the "backbone of the procurement process" in Punjab.
"The union minister has apprised us that making direct payments to farmers was only a suggestion given to the Punjab government," Preneet said. "He said it's now the state, which has to decide on the issue."
"Without arhityas, there is no system in Punjab to carry out procurement of food grains," she said. "Abolishing the present system would only lead to problems for farmers."
Farmer's unions are furious with the Congress for backing the strong lobby of the middlemen. "The Congress must come clean," Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakunda) state president Buta Singh Burajgill said. "Why this flip-flop? Several times the party leaders extended their support to abolish the system. Now they are supporting arhityas, who are looting the farmers in the name of commission."
"By supporting the arhtiya system, Congress is helping the SAD-BJP government, which was anyways against scrapping the present system," Consortium of Farmers Association state president Satnaam Singh Behru said.
"When Capt Amarinder Singh was the chief minister, he had assured us that he would pursue the matter of doing away with arhtiyas as they were bringing miseries to farmers," Behru said. "In the recent past too, the Congress supported us. The U-turn must be due to pressure from the strong arhitya lobby, which has money power."
Punjab Mandi Board chairman Ajmair Singh Lakhowal said the Congress was playing politics on the issue by changing its stand frequently. "On one hand the Congress leaders were demanding direct payment of draught relief to farmers; on the other hand, they were not backing direct payment of procurement," he added.
Farmers' leaders have threatened to oppose the party in the next Lok Sabha polls if its leaders continue to support arhtiyas. Agricultural experts have blamed the arhtiya system for farmers' suicides.
A vision document prepared after a long discussion during by economic experts of the state during a seminar conducted by Centre for Development Economics and Innovation Studies (CDEIS) and Planning Commission chair in Punjabi University here has also urged the state to immediately scrap the middlemen system.