Arhtiyas in Punjab, or commission agents or middle-men as they are called, are incensed after the Income-Tax department served notices to fourteen of the most prominent among and conducted searches at premises linked to six of them. They are so angry, in fact, that they decided to shut down all mandis in the state from Tuesday to Friday.
Their anger was evident when Sukhbir Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal spoke out against the government for the same and assured the Arhtiyas that they shall not be alone in their protest against ‘repression’. He also said that the raids were ‘malicious’.
Strongly condemn BJP-led Centre for carrying out raids on prominent Punjab arhtiyas to intimidate them & force them to forsake support to the Kisan andolan. Centre must resist from vendetta politics against dissenters who are only using their right to freedom of speech. 1/2— Sukhbir Singh Badal (@officeofssbadal) December 19, 2020
CRPF raids on office bearers of Punjab Arhtiya Association are malicious. I assure our Arhtiya brethren we will join them in protest against repression. Govt of India shouldn’t misuse central agencies to settle scores as it will alienate people & have dangerous repercussions. 2/2— Sukhbir Singh Badal (@officeofssbadal) December 19, 2020
The Federation of Arhtiya Associations of Punjab has also announced that the offices of the tax officials will be gheraoed and a “final plan of action” will be decided upon after consultation. Its president, Vijay Kalra, said that the action by the IT Department “was a pressure tactic to harass us as we are supporting the farmers’ protests”. He also claimed that his shop and his petrol pump were raided on the 18th of December.
The Arhtiyas are present in the ‘farmer’ protests at Singhu Border in large numbers. Kalra had recently told The Indian Express, “Initially, on November 26, when farmers started marching for Delhi after breaking the barriers, few arhtiyas had gone along with them. Later, from December 7 onwards, we started visiting the borders district wise and by December 16, arhtiyas from all the 22 districts of Punjab had visited Singhu border once. A second round of visits will start soon.”
“On December 7, close arhtiyas and labourers in 50 buses and 80 cars from Moga, Khanna, Ludhiana and Fatehgarh Sahib districts reached Delhi and stayed there for two days. We handed over eatables and other stuff that we carried along at our tent before walking to farmers’ stage at Singhu. The district units of ahrtiyas have been donating money ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 21,000 and sometimes more,” he added.
Ruldu Singh Mansa of the Punjab Kisan Morcha, commenting on the searches, said, “We stand in support of the arhtiyas. We have also decided to gherao Income Tax offices and protest against the action tomorrow. They should return whatever they have seized. They have been raided because they support us. They have helped us a lot, with rations and money. These laws have hit them as well. If they are implemented, arhtiyas will be destroyed.”
Amarjeet Singh Brar, the head of the association in Moga said, “The committee will hold a meeting with the Morcha on Monday or the day after in Delhi. We have over 400 arhtiya mandis in Punjab with nearly 28,000 licensed ahrtiyas and approximately 40,000 arhtiyas in total across the state.”
“If the I-T department penalises an arhtiya, we will contribute funds to help pay the penalty, and our support to farmers will continue. The Government must realise that this is a public movement, and targeting arhtiyas is a futile exercise,” he added.