Ludhiana/Chandigarh, Apr 10 (PTI) A few hours after going on a state-wide strike against the Centre’s direction to the state government to transfer the minimum support price of farmers’ crops directly to their bank accounts, 'arhtiyas' in Punjab on Saturday withdrew their strike.
The arhtiyas or commission agents withdrew their strike after Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh assured them that they would remain an integral part of the procurement system.
Earlier during the day, around 40,000 'arhtiyas' across the state had gone on strike to protest against the direct benefit transfer (DBT) of the minimum support price (MSP) to farmers for their crops, bypassing them.
The decision to call off the strike was taken by 'arhtiyas' after their leader Vijay Kalra, under the banner of the Federation of Arhtiya Association of Punjab, held a meeting with Punjab Food Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu in Ludhiana.
After the commission agents announced the rollback of the strike, wheat procurement kicked off in the state.
In Chandigarh, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ordered various steps to ensure arhtiyas' continued involvement in the process.
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 farmers, albeit in a modified manner with farmers getting their payments in their bank accounts within 48 hours, as mandated by the state government, an official statement said.
A senior Food Department official said the commission agents will come to know how much payment is being released to farmers who are linked to them.
Declaring his unequivocal commitment to safeguarding the interests of Punjab's 'arhtiyas', the state chief minister said despite the government of India's directives to exclude them from MSP payments, “the Arhtiyas shall always be associated with the procurement”.
“Till I am there, you will be part of the system, and your role will always remain,” he asserted, adding he will ensure that the arhtiyas’ commissions and other charges permitted under the APMC Act shall continue.
On the Centre's refusal to accept the state's request for deferment of the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme, the CM said, “We fought hard with the Centre on the issue but they were adamant, and even went to the extent of threatening not to procure crops from Punjab if we do not implement the DBT.” The CM also ordered the Finance Department to immediately release Rs 131 crore due to the 'ahrtiyas' without waiting for it from the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which had withheld payments after some 'arhtiyas' had failed to upload details.
These 'arhtiyas' were probably misguided at that time by people who wanted to play politics, he said, adding even though the money was yet to come from FCI, his government would release it immediately, without waiting for the same.
He also assured 'arhtiyas' that his government will take up with the Centre the issue of 30 percent reduction in labour payments made by the FCI.
Singh also thanked Vijay Kalra for heeding his government's plea to withdraw their strike and lift the grain as, he said, the farmers otherwise would have suffered.
He appealed to the 'arhtiyas' to immediately start procurement and also take care of the anti-Covid norms.
The government had to delay procurement this year till April 10 (from the previously scheduled April 1) on account of the second surge of Covid.
The CM said like last year, farmers will be issued passes this year too to reduce crowding at mandis amid the pandemic situation.
He assured that farmer passes would be issued at the district level, strictly in consultation with the arhtiyas who are in the best position to know which farmer has harvested his crop and is ready to come to the mandi.
The CM said he failed to understand why the central government was treating arhtiyas and the farmers in such a “shoddy manner”.
He recalled that the system of arhtiyas prevailed even when he was a kid, and visited mandis with his grandfather, and said it was inexplicable why the Government of India wanted to “ruin” it.
The arhtiyas are not middlemen but service providers, he said, adding the private sector can function along with the existing system and there was no need to change it. PTI CORR CHS VSD RAX RAX