April 10, 2020 10:36:32 pm
Facing a mammoth challenge to conduct Asia’s largest wheat procurement opeeration amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Punjab government is preparing for the first ever procurement by following social distancing norms.
The agriculture state, preparing to procure a bumper yield of 135 lakh metric tonnes, worth Rs 26,000 crore, is working on a model to ensure that the disease does not spread among farmers and villages.
The harvesting and procurement of wheat in Punjab is scheduled to begin on April 15.
The state has already decided to extend procurement till June 15 and has sought incentives from the Centre for delayed transportation to the mandis by the farmers in view of the COVID-19 crisis. The Centre is yet to respond to the state’s demand.
As many as 23.7 lakh trolleys, each weighing 50 quintals, would be unloading produce in 3,800 mandis across the state. While the state has 1,882 designated mandis, the number is being increased by converting shellers and other open spaces into procurement centres.
“The process has such a huge economic dimension that the procurement has to be conducted. It cannot be delayed as it could reduce the yield making the farmers suffer losses. The lockdown is already affecting our economy badly,” an official of the Punjab government told The Indian Express.
He said they reckoned that this was a huge challenge considering that the Khanna grain market is the largest mandi of Asia and the number of farmers, labourers, commission agents and others who descend on the mandi on any given day during the season also poses a grave challenge.
“But we are not going to take any chances. Earlier, the procurement season would pick up from April 8 and continue till May 5 with mandis having a glut between April 23 to 29, when at least 11 lakh metric tonnes would be off-loaded in all the mandis on these days. But this time, we have extended the season till May 31 and may even postpone it. The farmers are being sensitised to bring their produce whenever he would be called to the mandi.”
The government is working out a system in each one of over 12,000 villages in the state. Each farmer would be given a coupon with a hologram for movement to a mandi on a specific date. These farmers would be allowed to take the produce only on the given date.
Rules for mandis
In the mandis, there would be separate entry and exit points to make sure there is no crowding. Each trolley, not allowed to carry more than 50 quintals, would be given an earmarked space of 30 square feet. Every commission agent is being asked to ensure he deals with a single farmer at any given point of time. Since every mandi has its own dynamics, the state plans to divide the produce as per the capacity of the mandi, “For instance in Muktsar grain market, the yard is 70 acres. So in 45 days, we will allow 400 trolleys to unload the produce everyday in the mandi. This means six trolleys would be parked in one acre space. This is much more than the social distancing norm. We will earmark the space with paint,” the official said.
Every mandi would have a COVID safety station, having a hand washing unit, to be operated with a foot-pedal, besides a fever checking kiosk. Every commission agent has been directed to wear a mask and keep a sanitiser dispenser. Punjab Mandi Board would be supplying masks and has already procured 1 lakh masks. The distilleries have provided 300 litres of santiser to the Mandi Board free of cost. Gloves would not be used as these could mean a lot of sweat in the hot weather.
He added the government is concerned that if a positive case is reported from a mandi, it would mean they would have to close the entire mandi for sanitisation.
“Then we would have to divert the traffic of wheat to other mandis. In any case, in Nawanshahar, three mandis have been sealed along with Pathlawa village from where the COVID-19 patient was detected. So we will have to bear with such developments.”
Hotspots a problem
The government is still debating on how to procure grains from a hotspot. “We do not know how the farmers would be allowed to come out or somebody would be allowed to go in. The produce cannot wait for 21 days in this kind of situation. This will have to be worked out.”
The government is also facing a shortage of labour as only 30-40 per cent ‘dhanaks’ or ‘palledars’ are available. “The mandi labour is a kind of skilled labour on its own. Only they know how to handle these operations. We may be utilising the industry and MGNREGA workers but we do not know how it works out.”
30-member control room
On Tuesday, CM Amainder Singh Tuesday had a video conference on the procurement and it was decided to have a 30-member control room at Mandi Board to oversee the process. The CM also wrote to his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee, seeking her personal intervention to revive manufacturing and loading at the jute mills in her state against the pending indents for gunny bags placed by Punjab. This was essential given the emergent situation, to enable smooth procurement of wheat for central pool.
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