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Punjab farmers to get money directly in accounts, Centre rejects state’s plea to route through arhtiyas

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Farmers in Punjab will get direct payment in their bank accounts against the procurement of wheat from this season. The centre has rejected state’s demand to continue with the existing system of payment of minimum support price routed through arhtiyas.

A delegation of ministers from Punjab met union food minister Piyush Goyal, who turned down their demand saying that the centre will pay directly to farmers and not through arhtiyas.

“We have no option now. But we will find some mechanism to protect the interest of arhtiyas as they are integral part of procurement exercise,” said Punjab’s food and civil supplies minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu after the meeting with Piyush Goyal.

He said that the chief minister Amarinder Singh is concerned about the issue and had called a meeting with arhtiyas on Friday to discuss options.

The centre, however has agreed to give Punjab an extension of six months for linking land record to the national e-procurement portal.

The procurement of wheat is scheduled to start from Saturday in Punjab, which is likely to buy 13 million tonnes of wheat from farmers for the central pool. Last year, Punjab had contributed similar quantity of wheat.

Under the existing system, farmers in Punjab unload their produce at a market yard licensed to an agent (arhtiya) by the local mandi committee. The arhtiya gets the grain cleaned, organises auctions, packs the produce into 50-kg bags and dispatches them to the buyers. The arhtiya then receives money on behalf of the farmer, who gets money from the arhtiya after deduction of commission against the services.

“In Punjab, arhtiyas are a big force. There are 50,000 registered arhtiyas in Punjab who are actively involved in the procurement of 13 million tonnes of wheat and 12 million tonnes of rice every year. Since they (arhtiyas) lend money to farmers, they have good control over them (farmers),” said a Punjab government official.

The procurement of wheat is scheduled to start from Saturday across 3,972 grain markets through 156 market committees.

Vijay Kalra, president of the Federation of Arhtiyas Association of Punjab, said the state government can’t play with the livelihood of the agents. “If the government does that, we will hit the streets and stage dharnas (sit-ins). It’s a question of livelihood for lakhs of people engaged in this trade – be it the farmers, arhtiyas or labourers. We will strongly oppose this,” he said.

Kalra said the government tried to abolish this age-old system back in 2009, too. “Then also, the farmers themselves came forward and said that they can’t survive without arhtiyas. The government had to roll back the move,” he said.

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