The Arhatiyas, or commission agents, backed by the Punjab government have locked horns with the Central government over Centre’s guidelines to the Food Corporation of India to transfer Minimum Support Price (MSP) directly into the bank accounts of farmers. The Arhatiya association of the State has also threatened to boycott the procurement process of wheat crop in Punjab mandis starting April 10, as well.
With just two days to go for the wheat procurement to start in Punjab, three Punjab ministers — Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, Food And Civil Supplies Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Education and PWD Minister Vijay Inder Singla and Mandi Board Chairman Lal Singh will meet Union Minister Piyush Goyal in Delhi on Thursday.
Talking to News 18, Ashu said the Centre had invited the delegation of ministers to discuss the issue of direct bank transfer of MSP, which is not agreed to by the arhatiyas as well as farmers. He claimed the minister had assured that necessary amendments will be done if required.
All hopes are pinned on the meeting to resolve the deadlock.
The Federation of Arhatiya Association President, Vijay Kalra, has said that they have put forth all issues before the Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh which includes payment to farmers through arhatiyas as against direct payment of MSP to farmers as proposed by the Centre through the FCI, payment of Rs 131 crore to Arhatiyas pending since 2019, besides exemption to farmers on producing land records. He said if their demands are not met they will boycott the procurement process starting from April 10.
Captain Amarinder Singh has time and again said that the Centre should not try to disturb the native ecosystem of Punjab’s agrarian economy by forcing any such rules. He said the Arhatiya and farmers association in easy money exchange for crops is an age old practice and serves the Punjab farmers who can easily negotiate with the local commission agents and also get easy loans in emergency which would not be easy for them through the time consuming banking system. He said his government stands firmly behind the arhatiyas.
The Centre’s move, coming in the backdrop of the farmers agitation against Farm Bills, is being viewed differently as the BJP had earlier claimed that the it was a movement of the arhatiyas and by the arhatiyas only who resist modernisation of agricultural practices in the State for their vested interests.
The issue of mode of payment to the farmers had been settled after seven years by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2013. The farmers’ bodies had pleaded for options to be given to the farmers to choose their mode of payment as arhatiyas “arbitrarily” deduct the loan amount before paying the farmers. Now, retired Principal Secretary to Punjab government Suresh Kumar, then head of Agriculture Department, had advocated that farmers should be given a choice how they want to get paid.
One of the faces of the farmers movement, Dr Darshanpal, as well as Dr Jagmohan have been fighting for direct payment to farmers but have now questioned the timing of the Centre’s move. Besides, Punjab BJP leaders like Madan Mohan Mittal, Surjit Iyani and Harjeet Grewal had also advocated payment through arhatiyas only.
Sources say the Centre which has successfully implemented the DBT in Haryana where procurement process began on April 1, can resort to leaving the mode of getting payment with the farmers.
Economist Lakhwinder Gill said, “In 2012, we had also come out with a policy paper recommending that we need to get out of the arhatiya as intermediary ecosystem but the Opposition must be taken into confidence and such decisions need to be implemented by involving all stakeholders and after ample preparation for the same as even good decisions can turn out to be bad if timing is not right. Decisions should be taken after taking farmers into confidence.”