The ticklish issue of direct payment to farmers for their produce - bypassing the commission agents (arhtiyas) - continues to hang fire.
The Punjab government is not in agreement with the Food Corporation of India's (FCI) decision on making direct payment to farmers during the procurement season, while the union law ministry has failed to provide legal opinion on the issue to the union food ministry over the past more than six months.
C Roul, principal secretary, defence services welfare, Punjab, who was here to inspect arrangements for wheat procurement, said the state government had not yet agreed on direct payment to farmers.
Farmers' organisations have been pursuing the matter for the past several years, alleging that the commission agents exploit farmers.
During a meeting of food and civil supplies secretaries in New Delhi two months ago, state government officials had 'diplomatically' handled the issue, maintaining that it was a policy decision to be taken after the formation of the new government. However, the farming community is still awaiting a decision in their favour.
Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Shiromani Akali Dal MP from Bathinda and daughter-in-law of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, had opposed the Centre's move on direct payment in the Lok Sabha recently, dubbing the FCI 'a corrupt entity' and questioning the availability of requisite infrastructure with the corporation to deliver such services to farmers on its own.
Commission agents have also been opposing the decision tooth and nail, while threatening to boycott procurement in future too.
The state government, which claims to be championing the farmers' cause, has been citing the Punjab Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1961, to press upon the Centre that direct payment would amount to violation of the Act.
Sources said lack of political will was the main stumbling block in implementation of the FCI order, which would benefit nearly 13 lakh farmers in the state but hit the business of about 22,000 commission agents. The FCI has been crediting 2.5% commission directly into these agents' bank accounts.
Officials argued that making direct payment to farmers would be a daunting task for the official machinery due to lack of logistics.
Contradicting the state government's stand, Punjab State Farmers' Commission chairman GS Kalkat said the Act was not an impediment to direct payment.
"The state government can issue an order to its procurement agencies for crediting payment directly to farmers. We have sent our recommendations to the government in this regard," he added.
Meanwhile, Nilkanth Ahvad, senior regional manager, FCI, said the union food ministry was yet to receive legal opinion from the law ministry about the Punjab government's stand. "We are making payments to commission agents as per the old pattern," he said.