Arhtiyas (commission agents), a major source of political funding in the election season, are building pressure on parties to include their demands in manifestoes.
An arhtiya association led by Ravinder Singh Cheema claims more than 20,000 members and business worth thousands of crores of rupees a year. It has formed a political affairs committee to decide which party to support in the 2017 Punjab elections. Other arhtiya associations are expected to copy the plan.
Five years ago, the Akali-BJP government appointed Cheema vice-chairman of Punjab State Agricultural Marketing Board (mandi board). “Our organisation is largest in the trade sector,” Cheema told HT. “And we cater to a large section of society — farmers and farm labourers. But we never come forward with our demands. We will support a party that includes these in the manifesto.”
Rules require arhtiyas to pay the farmer within 48 hours. “It takes us about two months to get our payment,” said Cheema. “We want it within 72 hours of making payment to farmers. We want micro silos in the mandis (grain markets) to preserve the quality of the grain in case of any delay in lifting.”
Accused of fleecing farmers, arhtiyas disagree with the Punjab Settlement of Agricultural Indebtedness Act passed in May. It fixes the rate of interest to be charged from the farmers at 11.8%. The state government has also formed divisional forums — in Patiala, Jalandhar, Ferozpur, Faridkot and Rupnagar — look into debt settlement.
MAKE MANIFESTOES LEGALLY BINDING: BKU
The Bharti Kisan Union (BKU) went a step ahead of the arhtiyas and demanded that elections promises in the manifesto be made legally binding on the parties. BKU national president Bhupinder Singh Mann said it was normal for leaders to forget these promises on coming to power. “I will ask the Election Commission of India to make a rule.”