The Bhatinda district authorities in Punjab seized almost 25,000 bags of wheat, weighing 50kg each, on April 9, the day before wheat procurement started in Punjab. While almost 12,000 bags of wheat were recovered from three Bihar trucks that were impounded at the Bathinda grain market (mandi), almost 9000 gunny bags were found on the roadside.
Almost two dozen trucks laden with illegal wheat had reached Bathinda from other states on the night of April 9. While others managed to flee, three trucks were seized by the authorities. Moreover, 9000 bags of wheat were also recovered from the roadside.
Punjab Mandi Board deputy general manager, Ferozepur division, Kuldeep Singh Brar said the three trucks laden with wheat were impounded from the grain market, but a stock of wheat packed in more than 9,000 gunny bags was found on the roadside. He admitted that the drivers did not have a purchase document.
BJP leaders get input of illegal wheat trade in Bhatinda, alert officials
BJP leaders Sukhpal Sra and Sandeep Aggarwal were the first to get inputs about this unauthorised movement of wheat at the local mandi (grain market). On getting the information the BJP leaders reached Bathinda’s grain market where they realised how almost 25 trucks loaded with wheat parked in Dana Mandi had come from Bihar and other states. They reported the matter to the police, which in turn conducted the raid and seized the trucks.
Speaking on this illegal practice, BJP leader Sukhpal Sra said that traders procure consignments of wheat from Bihar at cheaper rates and sell it in Punjab as per MSP.
According to information, wheat is purchased at the rate of Rs 1,100 per quintal in Bihar and other states and sold in Punjab at around Rs 1,925 per quintal as MSP. Even transportation cost is around Rs 225 per quintal and in one truck around 400 quintals of wheat is transported. This means a trader is minting Rs 2 lakh per truck in this illegal business.
Inderjit Singh, a truck driver, said, “I have brought 41 tonnes (380 quintal) of wheat from Darbhanga in Bihar in my truck and I was told to leave it at a chemical factory in Bathinda but when I reached near Bathinda, I was told to reach grain market at Bathinda.”
After the news of the incident spread, the farmers under the banner of BKU Sidhupur had started a protest where wheat was lying dumped at the grain market. The protesters shouted slogans against the Congress government in Punjab. They alleged that the government along with traders is exploiting the farmers by doing this illegal business during the procurement.
SHO, Kotwali police station, Daljit Brar said, “We have received a complaint from market committee Bathinda, in which it was stated that one truck of M/s Babbu Ram Ashok Kumar firm, two trucks of Lakshmi oil chemicals and around 7000-8000 bags of wheat have been lying dumped in open at grain market, which has been brought from the other states so we have seized the stock and registered an FIR against both the firms.”
Farmer protests, MSP, and illegal trade
This wheat from Bihar arriving in Punjab ahead of the official procurement season once again exposes why the middlemen in Punjab are protesting against the farm laws. As the maximum government procurement of food grains like wheat and rice takes place in Punjab, the middlemen take benefit of the system to make quick money. They get food grains at much lower rates from other states, where the public procurement is not as robust as Punjab, and sell them in Mandis in Punjab at MSP, which is often more than the market rate.
This system works because the public procurement system is very weak in states like Bihar and UP. While almost 75% farmers sell their produce to APMCs under MSP, the number is just around 26% in Bihar, UP and Uttarakhand. This means, a large number of farmers are forced to sell their crop in open market, which often pays much less then MSP. As a result, many of them end up selling their food grains to middlemen in Punjab.
If the monopoly of mandis end as per the new farm laws, this practice will be hit badly, as the private players will be able to buy farm products from such states where public procurement is low at present. This will mean that farmers will not be willing to sell to the middlemen. If that happens, the illegal traders will lose a lucrative source of revenue.
Wheat procurement in Punjab
The wheat procurement in Punjab began on April 10. According to reports, procurement agencies and FCI are purchasing the crop at Rs 1,975 per quintal in the current rabi season. In view of the Covid-19 situation, the state had postponed wheat procurement from April 1 to 10. The procurement process will continue till May 31.