Jalandhar: Wheat procurement has finally kicked off in Punjab, after arthiyas or commission agents ended their strike on Saturday, April 10, against the Centre’s decision to exclude them from the minimum support price (MSP) payment for the crop.
In Punjab, though wheat procurement officially started on April 10 but with arthiyas on strike, normal operations began only on Sunday, April 11. The development came as a big relief not only for the arthiyas but for farmers too. The two have been dependent on each other not just for farming but their socio-economic existence as well.
The arthiyas called off their strike after Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh assured them of bringing amendments in the ‘Punjab Anaaj Kharid Portal’ under the Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs of the Punjab government. Arthiyas had announced to intensify their stir if no solution was found till April 10.
Through a video link, the chief minister assured arthiyas that the government would release pending payments to the tune of Rs 131 crore without waiting for it from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) by Monday, April 12. The Rs 131 crore was not released for the last 18 months, after nearly 20% of the total number arthiyas had not registered themselves on the Punjab Financial Management Service Portal.
In a press release issued on Saturday, it was stated that on the directives of the Punjab chief minister, the State Food Department has amended the procurement software, so that arthiyas will continue to be involved in the process of release of payments to the farmers, albeit in a modified manner, while farmers get their payments in their bank accounts within 48 hours, as mandated by the state government. The CM also said that the arthiya commission and other charges permitted under the APMC Act shall also continue.
Talking to The Wire, Vijay Kalra, the president of Federation of Punjab Arthiya Association said that the Centre’s agenda was to break the age-old arthiya and farmer relationship but the Punjab government saved it.
“The centre wanted to exclude us from MSP payment and had simply left us out of the wheat procurement system. Punjab government introduced the new software on ‘Punjab Anaaj Kharid Portal’ to ensure that even if Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) schemes for farmers was implemented, our work and livelihood will not get affected. The centre had threatened the Punjab government that if DBT was not implemented, they will not procure wheat from the state,” he said.
Notably, there are around 28,000 registered arthiyas in Punjab, who are involved in the procurement of wheat, paddy, basmati, cotton, maize and other crops under the APMC Act of Punjab state.
Arthiyas own shops/offices in the grain markets at the district, block and village level, helping farmers in process of procurement.
Arthiyas act as a facilitator between the farmer and procurement agencies like the FCI and get 2.5% commission per quintal. After a farmer has brought his crop to the grain market, it is arthiyas who handle the sale of their crop besides ensuring other necessary infrastructure like weighing machines, drying units, tarpaulin to cover the grain dumped in the open, labour to load and unload the crop and fill them into sacks.
Hardeep Singh Ladda, another arthiya from Rajpura in Patiala district said that earlier, they used to get the MSP amount first, deduct the farmers dues and then hand over the final payment to the farmers. “Now, under the DBT system, as soon as the farmers gets the MSP payment in their account, the state government will inform us and then we will agree with the payment on the portal. Through this method, we will come to know that the farmer has got his payment and we will get our dues,” he said.
Hardeep said that while the Centre “threw them out of the entire system,” the Punjab government stood by them. “At least someone supported us. We, the farmers and the arthiyas are like family here in Punjab. But BJP wants a fight between brothers. Capt Amarinder Singh has assured that we will continue to get our 2.5% commission on the crop. We would also be getting our 30% pending dues from the FCI, which amounts to around Rs 300 crores, by Monday,” he added.
The Punjab government will also send SMS alerts to arthiyas on their mobiles, as soon as the money is transferred in the farmers’ bank accounts through direct benefit transfer.
For farmers, arthiyas are indispensible. “My mother suffered cardiac arrest some time ago and we were short of money. In that hour of crisis, it was an arthiya who sent us Rs 50,000 to get my mother’s initial check-up done. Leave surgery, the doctor was not even willing to admit her. Even during other occasions like weddings, sending children abroad or social functions, we rely heavily on arthiyas. It has been a time-tested bond,” said Vipan Pal, a farmer from Hoshiarpur district.
Farmers also shared that even for buying seeds, fertilisers and other farm equipment, they have taken money from arthiyas. “As and when our payment is cleared, we return their dues. Though some frauds also take place but the number of such cases are few. So we trust this system. But the manner in which this government is harassing us first in the name of land records for payment, the DBT, then by excluding arthiyas and bringing the three black agricultural laws, we feel alarmed. This is the reason why even after four months, our protest is going strong against the farm laws and we will continue come what may,” a farmer said.
Arthiyas, farmers and munims (accountants) together held a rally against the Modi government’s decision on April 5 at Moga district. Farmers also held protests outside FCI offices across the country recently.