In these tough times, good news pours in from Punjab mandies. The first 10 days of the procurement season have been exceptionally well both in terms of arrival and procurement of wheat — better than what was witnessed in 2019.
This, despite corona-controlled conditions and without the traditional migrant labour from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on which Punjab agriculture is heavily dependent.
From April 15 to 24, a total of 37.33 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of wheat arrived in the state’s grain markets against 21.25 LMT during the same period last year. According to the Punjab Mandi Board, the arrival rate is 43 per cent higher this year. On Friday alone, 7.27 LMT wheat arrived in the mandis.
Government agencies purchased 35.15 LMT wheat against 21.25 LMT purchased last year — 61 per cent higher than last year. Only 7,000 tonnes of wheat has been purchased by private players so far.
The government expects to procure 13.5 million tonnes of wheat this year and has issued around 27 lakh coupons to arhtiyas (commission agents) which are being given to farmers to bring their crop to mandis.
To fill the vacuum created by the absence of migrant labourers, the arhtiyas roped in construction workers, hotel catering staff, farm labour and even factory workers who were sitting idle at home because of the lockdown. In Doaba, labourers involved in sugarcane and potato harvesting are being used for the purpose.
While only 15 LMT wheat has been lifted to the government godowns and storage places, the rate is better than the last year’s 4.20 LMT in the corresponding period.
However, norms of social distancing are posing a problem to the farmers. They have to wait for their turn to go to the mandies. As a result, a large amount of harvested grain is lying outside the mandis.
“I have stored 400 quintal crop in my field only because I have no covered place to keep it. My only worry is rain can play spoilsport,” said farmer Gurmeet Singh of Subbe Kalna in Bathinda district, adding that he cannot take it to the mandi till he gets a coupon.
Secretary (Food and Civil Supplies) K A P Sinha admits procurement is not an issue but social distancing is. “Social distancing in mandis is a big concern for me and we are trying to send farmers home the same day,” he said.
Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Dakuanda’s general secretary Jagmohan Singh said, “The government could have stored crop of small and marginal farmers in school buildings and wheat could have been lifted from there only.”
He said the government should speed up procurement of the crop lying in the open. Also, he suggested instead of giving more power to arhtiyas, the government could have easily handled it with its cooperative and rural development staff. He alleged there are reports that arhtiyas are getting 2-3 kg more wheat per quintal from farmers.
“We have sold our wheat at Rs 1,800 per quintal to our arhtiya because he told us that due to moisture, there would be difficulty in selling it at full MSP,” said Mohan Singh, a farmer from Bhadson in Patiala district.
President of Punjab Arhtiya Association Ravinder Singh Cheema said that the government should clear the payments of the farmers at the earliest and demanded more tarpaulins to arhtiyas to cover the farmers’ crop in the mandies during rain.
Director (Food and Civil Supplies) Anindita Mitra said that payment is being made online into the farmers’s accounts by the arhtiyas.
Payment due to the state agencies is Rs 3,776.08 crore while the payment made was Rs 990.60 crore.
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