Wheat procurement: Punjab arhtiyas call strike from today over DBT row
A day after the Punjab government agreed to implement the Centre’s direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme for farmers, arhtiyas (commission agents) announced to go on strike in the state from Saturday and stop the mandi operations to press for an immediate rollback of the move.
Wheat procurement in Punjab starts on Saturday.
Punjab Arhtiya Association president Vijay Kalra said the decision was taken after a meeting with chief minister Amarinder Singh even as he assured them that his government was making efforts to find a way out to accommodate them while implementing the DBT scheme. The CM also asked the officials to make sure that arhtiyas were not ignored while implementing the new system.
His assurance, however, failed to satisfy the arhtiyas who are apprehensive that DBT will end their role in the procurement process. “The state government has asked us to wait till some solution is found. But are going to shut our operations from tomorrow,” Kalra said.
Punjab has nearly 33,000 arhtiyas who deal with 10.93 lakh farmers. They also provide logistical support by cleaning, weighing, packing and loading grain in vehicles in lieu of ‘incidental’.
The arhtiyas were paid 2% of the minimum support price (MSP) as commission.
Now, the Centre has proposed to give them fixed ₹48 per quintal for running the mandi operations but the commission agents are up in arms against it.
The state has set a target to procure 130 lakh tonne wheat this season. State food and civil supplies minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu, who also along with his cabinet colleagues attended the meeting with Union minister Piyush Goyal, said his department will make efforts to start the procurement from Saturday itself.
“We are also working on a mechanism to bring changes in the public finance management system (PFMS) so that money goes directly into farmers’ accounts but the arhtiyas will have a say in clearing the payment,” he added.
CM Amarinder is expected to make a formal announcement about the changes in a day or two.
So far, payments for procurement of foodgrains for the public distribution system (PDS) were made to the farmers through arhtiyas. Though the Centre has been pushing for direct payment to farmers for several years, the state government has been opposed to DBT, saying arhtiyas are integral to the procurement system.
A five-member team of the Punjab government led by finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal met Union food and public distribution minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday to seek more time to implement the new system, but the latter refused to budge.
Punjab procures wheat and rice at MSP on behalf of the central government under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). Currently, MSP to farmers in Punjab is paid through arthiyas unlike directly to farmers’ bank accounts in other states.
A senior mandi board official said, “Procurement will take place whether arhtiyas go on strike or not.”