Just before the parliamentary elections,Punjab has sought to appease the powerful arhtiya (commission agents) lobby through amendment to the Punjab Agriculture Markets Act,1961.
While taking the number of official and non-official members in the Punjab Mandi Board from eight to 10 each,the government,through the amendment,has tilted the balance in the favour of traders by allowing their two more representatives in the board as non-official members.
This is yet another instance of governments pro-arhtiya stance after the model act for agricultural marketing,which allows private players to set up their own markets and procure directly from the farmers,was put on hold till the completion of polls.
Significantly,the government has also amended rules for allotment of plots in all the new mandis coming up in the state by doing away with the need for registered sale and rent deeds. Through a notification issued on January 2,2008,it has allowed the applicants to furnish just a three-year proof of running the business from their premises in the old mandi instead of a registered rent deed.
Armed by its own new rules,the government has invited fresh applications and issued 261 letters of intent (LOIs) for licences in Mansa mandi even though the entire allotment process was earlier cancelled by an inquiry committee set up on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. None out of the 511 applications were found to be eligible for allotment by the committee,and allotment to 280 persons was held void. The intent of the amendment is clear from the fact that most of the 261 applicants being issued licences after re-allotment under the new rules are the ones whose allotment was earlier set aside.
But the Mandi Board contends that since the process of re-allotment could not have been initiated under the old rules,the government took the decision to simplify rules. “Even in the case of other new mandis,applicants had a problem getting a registered rent deed,so the government relaxed the conditions,” says Mandi Board DGM (Estates) RP Singh.
This is not all. The Badal government has also empowered the traders’ lobby with more claims in the allotment pie. The new rules allow continuity to the same family by bringing in the inheritance clause,and persons working under the same roof can now apply for two sites in the new mandi against the previous condition of independent premises per person.
Notably,the two hikes in commission of arhtiyas were also done during the previous tenures of the Badal government.