In yet another indication of distress in the farm sector, at least six arhtiyas — middlemen through whom the government procures wheat and paddy from farmers — have committed suicide in Punjab in the last six months, a Punjab Mandi Board official has said.
Among the dead is 54-year-old Jaspal Setia, who committed suicide four months ago. A commission agent at Amritsar’s Bhagtanwala grain market, Setia had given a Rs 2.5 crore advance to farmers and rice millers which he failed to recover.
“He couldn’t take the stress,” said Vijay Kalra, president of Punjab’s Federation of Arhtiya Association.
The arhtiya’s job includes getting grain unloaded at the mandis and organising the auction, mostly to state agencies. For this, they get a commission fee — 2.5 per cent of the purchase price. They also lend to farmers for cropping operations and to meet personal needs.
Despite having considerable sway in Punjab’s grain trade, the arhtiyas have been under pressure of late. The reasons range from farmers being burdened with debt to successive crop failures and crashing prices.
While many of them have stopped lending to farmers, some have resorted to taking the extreme step.
Ravinder Singh Cheema, vice-chairman of the Punjab Mandi Board, estimates that 250-300 arhtiyas have committed suicide in Punjab in the last five-six years.