Partially accepting farmers' long-pending demand, the Punjab government has decided to offer them the facility of availing direct payment for procurement of their produce during the upcoming paddy season.
Farmers' organisations have been pressing the state government for the past several years to make direct payment, while seeking abolition of the 'exploitative' system of commission agents (arhtiyas).
Speaking to Hindustan Times on the phone, Deepinder Singh, secretary, Punjab Mandi Board, said the cabinet had approved the amendment in the prescribed rules to give farmers the option of getting direct payment.
"For availing this facility, farmers need to apply with the market committee concerned 45 days before the start of the procurement season. Farmers will have to submit 'S' form, giving details such as their name, address and bank account number. This will enable them to get payment directly transferred into their bank accounts or get a cheque from the buyer concerned," he said.
Deepinder said the procurement agency or buyer could also pay through cheque to the farmer within two days from the date of procurement. "The agency or buyer can also deposit the cheque with the market committee within two days and the latter will mandatorily hand it over to the farmer within the next three days," he said, adding that the market committee secretary shall be responsible for the delivery of the cheque to the farmer.
Commission agents would issue form III carrying payment particulars to farmers in case of direct payment.
Prof Sukhpal Singh, a senior economist at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, said there were nearly 10.75 lakh families engaged in the farming sector in the state. More than 85% such families are producing paddy crop, he added.
Though the Centre had been advocating direct payment to farmers for the past more than seven years, the Parkash Singh Badal government had been opposing it on the plea of lack of logistics to undertake the procurement process without commission agents. Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal had strongly opposed in the Lok Sabha the Centre's move on direct payment to farmers, claiming that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) was a corrupt entity, and had questioned the availability of requisite infrastructure on the FCI's part to deliver services to farmers during procurement.
"As many as 20,232 commission agents were paid Rs 1,034 crore as commission for wheat, paddy and cotton procurement during last year," said Sukhpal Singh, who conducted a detailed study on 'Problems of commission agents vis-a-vis farmers in Punjab' for the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
Earlier, the state government, which claims to be a champion of the farmers, was also taking refuge in the Punjab Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1961, to impress upon the Centre that direct payment would amount to violation of this Act.
But the farmers moved the Punjab and Haryana high court against the state government. The cabinet decision to amend the rules for partially allowing direct payment was necessitated to appease the farmer community.