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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Punjab: Farm bill ending APMC Act will render 3 lakh labourers without mandi work

These workers get work for 5-6 months in a year in these mandis where they work during wheat, paddy, basmati, maize and cotton procurement season because all these crops are brought to the APMC yards for sale.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Updated: September 18, 2020 11:47:14 am
Punjab Farmers, Punjab Farmers Protest, Farm Bill, PatialaMembers of various organizations prepare food for farmers, protesting against the agriculture related ordinances, at Puda ground in Patiala. Express Photo: Harmeet Sodhi

The implementation of Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, which will end the state’s Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act, also threatens the livelihood of around three lakh labourers who work in mandis across Punjab.

These workers get work for 5-6 months in a year in these mandis where they work during wheat, paddy, basmati, maize and cotton procurement season because all these crops are brought to the APMC yards for sale.

But when the APMC Act ceases to exist, the traders will purchase the farmers’ produce anywhere including from the field of a farmer outside these yards.

Punjab procures around 31 million tonnes of foodgrain, which includes around 25-26 million tonnes of wheat and rice alone and around 5 million tonnes basmati, and maize etc., in these market committees per annum and for that huge manpower is required in the form of labourers, market committee staff, transporters etc.

“There are around 1,850 purchase centres, including 152 big mandis (grain markets) across the state where around 28,000 registered arhtiyas in Punjab work with a supporting workforce of around 2-3 lakh labourers and others like accountants. They work for procuring the crops of around 2 million farmers. As every arhtiya has minimum 7 and maximum 20 pucca labourers with them and the majority of these labourers work in the mandis 5-6 months during the procurement season of various crops. With the dismantling of APMCs all these would become jobless,” said Ravinder Singh Cheema, former Vice President of the Punjab Mandi Board (PMB).

Every such labourer earns Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000 a month during the procurement season.

“We have been working permanently in these mandis for the past over a decade as we get permanent work for 5-6 months in a year here and remaining part of the year, we either works in the farms or go to our native place for a month or two to live with our families back home,” said labourer Mohammad Sahu from Bihar’s Kishanganj area. He added that he along with his 15-20 labourers have been surviving on the basis of mandi work where they load, unload, clean the crop to earn a living.

Cheema added: “With the end of APMCs, big corporates will take over soon and they will set up all mechanised system to collect and store the grains and just nominal labour would be needed. In Moga, already a Gujarat-based known corporate group has set up a big highly mechanised silo, which stores bulk of the grain. Now, after these bills many such structures would come up in the state like Punjab which is the granary of the country and every big corporate is eyeing it following these ordinances,”

“Such places do not need labour because everything is mechanised and is done without human touch unlike in our APMCs where labourers are loading, unloading, cleaning, filling and stitching the grain bags,” said a senior officer in the Punjab Food Supply Department.

He added: “Apart from these labourers, even large number of arhtiyas will have no work in the coming few years when the direct sale purchase will start as per this ordinance and farmers directly handover to these big houses instead coming to mandis.”

According to the official, nearly 3,000 to 4,000 staffers of the PMB working in these committees too will become jobless.

Cheema informed that one of the biggest corporate houses in the country had already started purchasing the big shellers in Fazilka and Abohar following the announcement of these ordinances with plans to store the grains purchased from the farmers directly.

The repercussion would be more dangerous as there are thousands of poor people who earn their grains from the mandi yards, said Cheema, adding that during cleaning when some grains go in waste material these poor people pick those grains from waste and collect a few bags during the season to last them the whole year.

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