SOWING HAS been going on smoothly and the area covered is higher than last season despite a double jeopardy situation for farmers in the peak wheat sowing season. Although farmers were still awaiting payment for their crop when the government pulled out the Rs 500/1,000 notes, it does not appear to have affected sowing despite concerns expressed by some farmers last week.
According to figures provided by the agriculture department, farmers have completed sowing on 70 per cent of the total targeted area till date. The sowing season will last till November 25. Sowing wheat costs Rs 5,000 per acre, which includes the cost of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.
The Indian Express spoke to several farmers, seed-and-fertiliser dealers and arhtiyas (commission agents) who said sowing had taken place without disruption because of two reasons. Farmers had already purchased the seed and fertilisers before the old currency was scrapped; and secondly, the tight-knit relationship between farmers and arhtiyas had helped to prevent a crisis.
Farmer Pardeep Singh (name changed) of Bathan village said he waited for his paddy payment of Rs 1.5 lakh from the government for three weeks after selling it on October 20 but when he did not receive the money, he took Rs 50,000 cash from his arhtiya in old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 and deposited the amount in his own account. Singh then withdrew money from his account in new currency, bought his materials and began sowing wheat on his five acres. “When the government releases my payment, I will repay the arhtiya in new currency,” he added.
Singh explained that during the sowing season, arhtiyas keep large amounts of cash with them becaue farmers usually approach them for loans that they repay when they receive procurement payouts from the government. “We do not know if this cash with arhtiyas is white or black. But we are left with no other option when the government does not release our payment,” said the farmer.
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Harnek Singh, another farmer with four acres in Kohala village, revealed that he also took Rs 20,000 from his agents and got some amount exchanged at the bank to complete his sowing.
Punjab received Rs 26,000 crore CCL for paddy procurement of which only Rs 12,000 crores have been paid to farmers till date. There has been no payment since October 15. Punjab Arhtiya Association President Vijay Kalra said they were told that the remaining money would be released by October 16 which is yet to happen.
“I even took fertilisers and pesticides from my arhtiya and will make all payments to him when I get the money from the government,” said Sohan Singh, a farmer from Lambra, adding that the new currency was not available with him and also he did not have much balance in the banks to meet his wheat sowing needs.
A large number of arhtiyas also hold licence to sell fertilisers and pesticides. Rajnish Sharma, a dealer of pesticides, seeds and fertilisers, said his business had gone down by 90 per cent because farmers do not have enough amount to purchase from them, preferring to go to the agents, who give the stuff to them as debt.
“Our main products like fertilisers are not being purchased by farmers as they are either waiting to come sufficient new currency in the market or getting it from their commission agents,” said another fertiliser dealer Amrik Singh.
Agriculture department sources said that when the Rs 500/Rs 1,000 notes were declared illegal, farmers panicked and started taking old notes from whoever offered it to them, including arhtiyas, deposited those in their bank accounts or exchanged them for legal currency and began using that to sow wheat. “There are over 26,000 registered commission agents in Punjab and around 20-50 farmers are attached to every agent here,” said a senior officer in the agriculture department, adding that the farmers are largely dependent on the arhtiyas for financial help.