SAD supports status quo,Cong too remains non-committal
With its move stalled midway during Kharif season last year,the Food Corporation of India is treading cautiously this year on the issue of direct payment to farmers. With commission agents flexing their muscles by threatening boycott of wheat procurement operations,the central food agency has put the decision on hold till it seeks a legal opinion on Punjab governments plea that direct payment to farmers violates its Agricultural Produce Marketing Act,1961.
As of now,the instructions have been kept in abeyance. We have referred the matter of its violating Punjab Agricultural Marketing Act to legal wing of the union food ministry. Depending on the legal opinion,we will go ahead with the decision. But in principle we intend to finally implement it, said Aseem Chabbra,DGM (movement),Punjab FCI.
However,Punjab Food and Civil Supply Department says the issue is too big to be handled before the wheat procurement season which gets underway from April 1. In the meeting of food secretaries held at New Delhi on Tuesday,Punjab put the ball in court of the next government. We told them that it is a major policy decision as it would require both political will and logistical support. The system of paying farmers through commission agents has been working well for the last many years. It has both plus and minus points but overall it fares well for the state and farmers, said secretary,food,DS Grewal.
The department has also cited the logistic difficulty in seeing the reform through. Paying nearly 13 lakh farmers who bring their produce to mandis in many consignments during the wheat and paddy seasons directly through cheques will require each of them to have a bank account. Even if the Union ministry insists that we do it from this season,it is not possible to put everything in place by April. Payments to farmers will suffer greater delays. We need a window of at least three to five months to implement the move. Since it means a major policy shift,we have told the Centre that it can only be implemented after the new popular government is sworn in, he added.
While the Parkash Singh Badal government is openly supporting the status quo,the opposition Congress is non-committal. State Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh said they will have to study all possible aspects before taking a final call. I have read statements of farmers unions supporting it. But farmers share age-old association with commission agents. So its a call we can only take once we form the government, Amarinder said.
The Punjab Farmers Commission says the implementation of the decision will require no amendment to the Agricultural Marketing Act. Its just a question of asking the state procurement agencies to issue cheques directly to farmers. All it requires is a simple government order,which can only come through a strong political will as it is about breaking the age-old chain of exploitation of farmers by commission agents, said chairman of the commission,GS Kalkat.