Instead of taking any measure to expedite the procurement of paddy, Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, chairman of the Punjab mandi board, on Monday advised farmers and commission agents to stage protests if they were dissatisfied.
Muktsar, home district of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, has witnessed nearly 25 farmers' agitations since the paddy procurement season has opened. Farmers of the CM;s constituency, Lambi, have been most aggressive in these campaigns against slow procurement. Irritated over questions from the media, farmers and commission agents, the mandi board chairman told them to "block roads, if you are not satisfied with the government arrangements".
"We explained him how rice millers and the government agencies harassed farmers and commission agents over the procurement of paddy in the grain markets of Muktsar," said Natha singh, president of the district commission agents association. "However, he lost his temper and told us to continue with the dharnas. Lakhowal told us to spread the paddy on roads and bring traffic to a halt, if paddy is not being procured. If he has no solution, why has he wasted public money on his visits to the grain markets across Punjab."
When Lakhowal was on his tour of the district, farmers waiting for procurement at Aalam Walal grain market blocked traffic on the national highway to Fazilka for three hours in the afternoon. On Sunday, even a gun-wielding commuter had failed intimidate the farmers into ending their blockade of the Malout-Lambi road.
Protests over slow procurement have become a routine in Muktsar but Lakhowal has tried to hide behind statistics. "The government agencies and private millers procured more than 87.15-lakh metric tons of paddy in the state till Sunday evening, while the total arrival was 90.62-lakh MT," said the mandi board chairman. "The government agencies procured 76.02-lakh MT, while private millers procured the remaining 11.13-lakh MT. From the grain markets of Muktsar district, 3.8-lakh MT paddy was procured."
He quoted statistics suggesting Patiala district had accounted for maximum procurement (8.13-lakh tons), followed by Ferozepur (7.45-lakh tons) and Ludhiana (7.44-lakh tons). Lakhowal tried to transfer the blame to the union government. "Central agency, the Food Corporation of India (FCI), procured only 4% paddy in the current year against its target of 10%," he said, "and the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI), another Central procurement agency, is yet to begin its purchase of cotton from the state."