Hours after the Arhtiyas (commission agents) in Punjab had launched a strike and blocked the purchase of food grains from farmers at mandis, the strike was called off after CM Amarinder Singh held a meeting with them. The Arhtiyas withdrew the strike after the CM assured them that they will remain an integral part of the food grain procurement system. The strike was started by the arhtiyas and labour unions protesting against the state government’s decision to implement the direct payment system to farmers, bypassing the Arhtiyas.
CM Captain Amarinder Singh announced that the state government has decided to release Rs 131 crore the Arhtiyas, which is due from FCI as the central agency has held up the payment because arhtiyas have not submitted required details. He said that “arhtiyas play an important role in purchase of agricultural produce by cleaning, weighing, bagging & loading/unloading”, and hence they will remain a part of the system in the state.
The CM announced that the government is starting 9th round of procurement for the current procurement session of wheat. “We will continue to ensure seamless and hassle-free procurement for our farmers,” Singh said on Twitter. Accordingly, wheat procurement by state procurement agencies started in the afternoon today, avoiding a major crisis.
In the meeting with the union of the Arhtiyas through video conferencing, Amarinder Singh said that despite the centre’s directives to exclude them from MSP payments, “the arhtiyas shall always be associated with procurement”. He further said, “till I am there, you will be part of the system, and your role will always remain,”adding that he would ensure that the arhtiya commission and other charges permitted under the APMC Act would continue in the state.
As per reports, 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, but in a modified manner. However, at present it is not clrear from where this payment will be made, as FCI will make the complete payment to the bank accounts of the farmers. It is not known whether the payment will be made by the state govt or they will make the payment from the amounts paid to the farmers.
For the time being, the CM ordered to release Rs 131 core to arhtiyas from the state govt without waiting for the release of the amount by FCI. This due amount is from the existing system where payments are made to arhtiyas, who in turn pay the farmers.
He also assured the arhtiyas that his government would take up with the Centre the issue of 30% deduction in labour payments made by the FCI. Reiterating that his govt wanted to continue with the current system, Amarinder Singh also 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 CM thanked the Arhitya Federation for withdrawing the strike after getting the assurances for him, and appealed to them to immediately start procurement process while following the COVID-19 protocols.
Praising the arhtiyas, he said that arhtiyas are not middlemen but service providers, adding that the private sector could function along with the existing system and there was no need to change it. He said that the system of arhtiyas prevailed even when he was a kid, and it was inexplicable why the Centre wanted to ‘ruin’ it.