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Amid row, Punjab to start procurement of 130 lakh tonnes of wheat

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Chandigarh, April 9, 2021-
With the ‘arhtiyas’ announcing a boycott of wheat procurement in Punjab beginning on Saturday owing to direct payment to farmers on the purchase of food grains, the state’s Mandi Board Chairman Lal Singh said they were fully geared up to accomplish the challenging task of procurement amid the pandemic.

He told IANS the government is fully committed to procure every single grain of wheat from the ‘mandis’ and also to ensure the safety of farmers, labourers, ‘arhtiyas’ and officials of procurement agencies.

Earlier in the day, ‘arhtiyas’ association state president Vijay Kalra said they would boycott the markets from April 10 if the balance of Rs 131 crore was not paid to them by the Food Corporation of India (FCI).

After holding a meeting with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Kalra told the media here that they were opposing the direct payment to farmers on the purchase of food grains.

A day earlier, the Centre rejected Punjab’s demand for continuation of payment through ‘arhtiyas’ and exemption from the direct benefit transfer (DBT) system.

The Centre, however, agreed to give the state a six-month extension to integrate land records with the national e-procurement portal.

The grudge of the ‘arhtiyas’ is that as per the past practice the entire procurement from the farmers is done through them and in return they are entitled to get 2.5 per cent commission.

The arhtiyas feel that if the farmers get money directly into their accounts, they will lose their hold on the farmers who normally take loans from them and return the money in lieu of wheat procurement.

State Food and Civil Supply Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu told the direct payment transfer will be made to the farmers and they would take the ‘arhtiyas’ as part of the procurement system.

Meanwhile, the state government said it has set up Covid vaccination camps in all 154 market committees to inoculate the people above the age of 45 years visiting grain markets during the current Rabi marketing season.

During the last Rabi season, the state had procured 127.13 lakh metric tonnes of wheat.

This time the state estimates to procure 130 lakh metric tonnes.

Food and Civil Supply Minister Ashu said procurement agencies, including the Food Corporation of India (FCI), would procure it on the minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 1,975 per quintal.

He said the state has increased procurement centres from 1,872 to 4,000 to check the spread of coronavirus.

Responding to the Central government’s decision to reject Punjab’s demand for continuation of payment through ‘arhtiyas’ and exemption from the direct benefit transfer system, the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) asked the Chief Minister to tell why he had kept the farmers and the ‘arhtiyas’ in the dark.

Asserting that implementation of the new scheme would increase social strife, SAD leader Prem Singh Chandumajra said “relations between farmers and ‘arhtiyas’ would be poisoned and it would cause immense problems for those who leased out land.”

Slamming the Centre and the state government, the main opposition and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLAs Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer and Amarjeet Singh Sandoa said that both the governments were working together and were fooling the farmers and ‘arhtiyas’.

They said it was unfortunate that during the meeting of three Punjab ministers with Union Minister Piyush Goyal, they had not taken a firm stand for Punjab.

“Like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amarinder Singh is also lying on every step,” they added. (Agency)

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