Procurement kicks off in Punjab as arhtiyas call off strike

State govt amends software to ensure continued arhtiya involvement

Procurement kicks off in Punjab as arhtiyas call off strike

On the Chief Minister’s directives, the State Food Department has amended the procurement software.

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, April 10

Wheat procurement kicked off in Punjab on Saturday with the arhtiyas calling off their proposed strike after Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh ordered various steps to ensure their continued involvement in the process and immediate release of their pending payments of Rs 131 crore without waiting for dues to come from the FCI.

On the Chief Minister’s directives, the State Food Department has amended the procurement software so that the arhtiyas will continue to be involved in the process of release of payments to the farmers, albeit in a modified manner, while farmers get their payments in their bank accounts within 48 hours, as mandated by the state government.

Declaring his unequivocal commitment to safeguarding the interests of Punjab’s arhtiyas, Amarinder said that despite the Centre’s directives to exclude them from MSP payments, “the arhtiyas shall always be associated with procurement”. “Till I am there, you will be part of the system, and your role will always remain,” he asserted, adding that he would ensure that the arhtiya commission and other charges permitted under the APMC Act would continue.

Commenting on the Centre’s refusal to accept the state’s request for deferment of the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system, the Chief Minister said, “We fought hard with the Centre, but they were adamant, and even went to the extent of threatening not to procure from Punjab if we do not implement the DBT.”

The Chief Minister also ordered the Finance Department to immediately release Rs 131 crore due to the ahrtiyas without waiting for it from the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which had withheld payments after some arhtiyas had failed to upload details. These arhtiyas were probably misguided at that time by people who wanted to play politics, he said, adding that even though the money was yet to come from the FCI, his government would release it immediately, without waiting for it.

He also assured the arhtiyas that his government would take up with the Centre the issue of 30 per cent deduction in labour payments made by the FCI.

Amarinder thanked Vijay Kalra, president of the Federation of Arhtiya Association of Punjab, for heeding his government’s plea to withdraw their proposed strike and lift the grain as the farmers would otherwise have suffered. He appealed to the arhtiyas to immediately start procurement and also take care of Covid norms. The government had to delay procurement this year till April 10 (from the previously scheduled April 1) on account of the second surge of Covid.

The Chief Minister said that like last year, farmers would again be issued passes this year to reduce congestion at the mandis in view of the pandemic. He assured that farmer passes would be issued at the district level, strictly in consultation with the arhtiyas who are in the best position to know which farmer has harvested his crop and is ready to come to the mandi.

Sharing the arhtiyas’ pain, which, he said, he could feel, the Chief Minister said he failed to understand why the central government was treating them and the farmers in such a shoddy manner. He recalled that the system of arhtiyas prevailed even when he was a kid, and visited mandis with his grandfather, and said it was inexplicable why the Centre wanted to ruin it. The arhtiyas are not middlemen but service providers, he said, adding that the private sector could function along with the existing system and there was no need to change it.

Pointing to the 72 per cent increase in farmers’ earning, he attributed it to the combined efforts of the farmers and the arhtiyas. “Your contribution to the Green Revolution and filling of India’s granaries is unforgettable,” he told them, adding that he does not agree with anything that the Centre is doing on agriculture. He assured that all their concerns would be addressed, and all the commitments made to them fulfilled.

Announcing the withdrawal of the strike in the interest of the state and the farmers, Kalra thanked Amarinder and his government for their support in their fight with the Centre. The Centre, he said, is penalising Punjab for the farmers’ agitation. Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu told the Chief Minister that the arhtiyas simply wanted protection for their business and livelihood.

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