Direct payment to farmers: Sidhu claims Centre wants to ‘destroy’ mandi system in Punjab

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Chandigarh, Apr 4 (PTI) Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu on Sunday dubbed Union minister Piyush Goyal's letter regarding direct payment to farmers as “part of a larger conspiracy” against Punjab to “destroy and disrupt” the state's tried and tested mandi system.

Goyal had written a letter to the Punjab government, asking it to implement a system for direct payment to farmers for crop procurement. The state government was also asked to integrate land records, available with the revenue department, with the procurement portal.

Addressing the media in Patiala at his residence, the cricketer-turned-politician questioned the timing of the letter and alleged that the Centre wanted to “instigate” farmers and “create a law and order situation” in the state.

“This tantamounts to economic blackmail by the central government to force the farmers and Punjab to withdraw their agitation against the three farm laws,” he further alleged.

Sidhu said the motive of the letter was to “disrupt” the age-old, tried and tested and successful mandi system that allows for the implementation of the minimum support price in the state.

It also intends to create a “division” between arhtiyas (commission agents) and farmers in the state, he alleged.

This letter is part of a “larger conspiracy” to stall the procurement of wheat crop in Punjab and destroy the state's agricultural economy, he alleged. The Amritsar East legislator said according to Goyal, the revenue department of the state government had all the information about the land records of farmers in the state. But according to data collected by the National Sample Survey for year 2012-13, it shows that more than 24 per cent of the land under cultivation in Punjab is under tenancy.

“These tenancy contracts are oral or unwritten in nature,” he stated, adding that the land under tenancy may have increased and not decreased over the years.

If the sale of wheat crop is allowed with ownership rights, then about 25 to 30 per cent farmers will not receive payment for sale of their crops, he claimed.

The former Punjab minister accused the Centre of planning to “destroy” the state's successful Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee model and also questioned the timing of the letter.

He emphasised that the state and its people should come together and build “an alternative economic model” for Punjab's agricultural prosperity.

Asked when he would return to the state government, Sidhu refused to comment. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Sidhu had on March 17 met over tea at the former's farmhouse, where they had discussed the cricketer-turned-politician's possible reinduction into the state cabinet.

The following day, Singh had expressed confidence that Sidhu would be back in his cabinet.

For the last several weeks, the Congress circles have been abuzz with speculation over a key cabinet berth for Sidhu and there has also been talk of him being appointed the state Congress president.

The rift between Singh and Sidhu had come out in the open in May 2019 when the chief minister blamed him for the 'inept handling' of the local government department, claiming it had resulted in the 'poor performance' of the Congress in urban areas in the Lok Sabha polls.

Sidhu was later stripped of this portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle, following which he had resigned. PTI CHS VSD RHL