PUNJAB WILL begin the process of wheat procurement from Saturday, but the state is yet to receive a Cash Credit Limit (CCL) from the Reserve Bank of India.
The outgoing SAD-BJP government had asked for Rs 20,863 crore CCL from the Centre for an expected bumper yield of 125 lakh metric tonnes of wheat this season. But, there are no directions from RBI to the 60 lending banks to release the amount yet.
The state government is baffled by the delay, because when it took over on March 17, one of its first acts was to settle an outstanding amount of Rs 270 crore with the banks from the previous procurement season. This it did to pave the way for a smooth process in its first procurement season.
“Chief Minister Amarinder Singh directed us to pay the amount on March 16. And, we immediately followed the orders. We deposited the amount despite being in overdraft. Still, we are facing a problem,” said a finance department official.
The Congress, had in its election manifesto, promised that it would lift the produce of farmers on the day he downloads it at mandis and to credit the minimum support price (MSP) in their accounts the same day as it was bought.
State Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Delhi on Friday to take up the issue with him. Badal also met the Union Finance Secretary in Delhi. He said he had got an assurance that the CCL would be released. “They will release it. There should not be any hassle,” he said.
While Congress circles are attributing political motives to the delay, Punjab finance department officials said it appeared more like “bureaucratic inertia”. The issue of missing grain worth Rs 12,500 crore and an interest repayment of about Rs 18,500 crore in the infamous Rs 31,000-crore foodgrain scam was also sorted by the previous government by arranging the term loan for the amount.
Earlier, Amarinder had himself met Jaitley in Delhi and taken up the issue with him. Functionaries of the government said CCL became an issue after the BJP government took over at the Centre in 2014.
Punjab Mandi Board Vice-Chairman Ravinder Singh Cheema said formal procurement of wheat will start from Saturday, April 1. There are around 152 mandis across the state apart from the nearly 1,650 other procurement centres for purchasing the crop.
“Even if the clearance comes from RBI in a day or two, it will take around a week or 10 days after that to make payments to farmers as there is a process to follow,” said Cheema, adding that the wheat has started reaching several mandis of the state. “In Malwa, the crop is harvested first as there it gets ready earlier compared to Doaba and Majha regions,” said Baljit Virk, a farmer from Sangrur, adding that every year, they are facing delayed payment problem and this time, too, the condition seems the same. This year, the MSP for wheat is Rs 1,625 per quintal.
“But farmers sell it at a less rate to some private players so that they can get immediate payments instead of waiting for weeks after selling to the government agencies,” said Virk.
(With inputs from Anju Agnihotri Chaba)