As India grinds to a halt with a three-week nationwide lockdown in place to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, Punjab government Wednesday postponed the procurement of wheat by a fortnight.
The state starts the procurement from April 1 every year in what is billed as Asia’s biggest procurement operation worth Rs 20,000 crore. “We have postponed the process for 15 days. Now the procurement would start from April 15. We have written to the Centre about state’s plans. The Centre is on same page with the state as they also know we are making all efforts to ward off COVID-19 threat. If procurement is started on April 1, it would defeat the purpose of a lockdown,” said Punjab Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu.
He added, “Though we always start our procurement from April 1, only a few farmers come with their crop to mandis. The harvesting picks up after Baisakhi on April 13. We just post our staff in Mandis so that those coming to the market has somebody to attend to. But this time, if we allow farmers, labourers and everybody to flock to the mandis, the purpose of lockdown will be defeated. Hence, it is better to play safe,” said Ashu.
The state is expecting a yield of 130 lakh metric tonnes of wheat this year. The massive procurment operations would be undertaken at over 1800 mandis across the state.
The government is not ready to take take any chance and is preparing to a mandi-wise plan. “We will cover one commission agent daily. On an average, an agent covers 15-20 farmers each. Each farmer would be given a date to come to Mandi so that there is no over-crowding,” said a functionary of the government.
He said the government will also ask the staff of agriculture department to sensitise the farmers to postpone their harvesting operations so that they do not have to wait for procurement by keeping the produce at home. This may cause unrest among farmers who want their produce to be procured the first day. Procurement is a huge political issue in the state. Any delay causes unrest among farmers and the government of the day has to make arrangements to ensure its quick lifting.
This time Punjab is also facing a problem of plenty as all its godowns are filled to the brim. With the efforts to contain the novel coronavirus being put in place, the government is also hurrying to clear its godowns by sending the wheat to recipient states. The curfew directions have been exempted on those operations.
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