Grain markets across Punjab wore a deserted look Wednesday as the state kick-started its mammoth operation to procure wheat amid the coronavirus pandemic. On day one of the procurement exercise, very little wheat made it to the mandis in Doaba, Malwa and Majha regions of the state. Against arrival of 18,309 MT of wheat on first day of procurement last year, only 4,855 MT wheat made it to the mandis across the state on Day 1 this year.
“Total arrival of wheat in mandis was 4,855 MT. Out of this 3,119 has been procured by government procurement agencies. A total of 65 MT has been lifted and the rest will be lifted within 48 hours,” said Anandita Mitra, Director, Food and Civil Supplies Department, Punjab.
This year the Minimum Support Price (MSP) is Rs 1925 per quintal and arhtiyas have been told to transfer entire MSP online to the accounts of farmers.
Doaba farmers wait for turn
Instead of taking their crop directly to the mandis as has been the practice, several farmers, mainly medium and big, were busy making space/sheds in their fields on Wednesday in order to store wheat after harvesting.
Farmer Gurminder Singh of Nawan Pind in Kala Sanghia, district Kapurthala, said that he has grown wheat on around 35 acres and his total production will come to around 800 quintals for which he had got an old shed cleaned and covered from all sides for storage. “I will take it to the mandi when my turn comes. There is no point in crowding out the mandis. I request farmers, who have some space available, to store the crop there after harvesting,” he sadi.
Gurmail Singh, a farmer from Haripur village who had planted wheat on 25 acres, said that he will harvest his crop by the end of April and after that store it in a potato shed.
Another farmer, Ajit Singh, from village Sikanderpur in Jalandhar said that though he is a small farmer with just five acres of land, he has enough space at home to store wheat after harvesting. “I have seen several calamities during harvesting earlier, but not like this which has forced us to store crop at home. Earlier, we used to spend nights in the mandi to wait for our turn, but this time it is too dangerous,” he said.
Hunt for local workforce
At most mandis in Doaba, local labourers from villages had come to get themselves registered for work during the purchase drill.
At Jalandhar’s main grain market, labourers were seen sitting and waiting for their turn to get registered for work.
“I have brought five labours from my village to get them registered as mandi labourers. Arhtiyas (commission agents) have taken our details and soon they will assign up work like loading/unloading, cleaning and filling the wheat in the sacks,” said Nirmal Singh Bhola of Nagra village in Jalandhar.
He added that he has been working in the mandi for the past 32 years and in the absence of migrant labour this year, his arhtiya had asked him to arrange local labour from his village.
Bhagwan Das, another labourer from Jalandhar, said that he too has been given the work to arrange local labour
“The entire mandi would bustle with labourers in normal times. But this year, there is hardly any labourer. Now, I am bringing daily wagers from my mohalla to get them registered for mandi work” he said.
Scanty arrival, some complaints in Malwa
Scanty arrival of wheat was seen at a few mandis in the Malwa region. However, Amritsar, Taran Tarn, Gurdaspur mandis had zero arrival as harvesting is delayed in these districts.
In Ludhiana, arrival was bare minimum in most mandis of the district as harvesting is yet to pick up the pace.
While there were some complaints regarding lack of arrangements in mandis, farmers who arrived on the first day were garlanded and welcomed.
In Mansa, farmers were presented flowers as they entered the mandis, while those in Barnala and Bathinda were garlanded.
“This wheat procurement season is challenging for us and hence we are welcoming farmers and even greeting them so that they can also cooperate with us in the procurement season,” said Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Food and Civil Supplies Minister while talking with The Indian Express.
In Ferozepur, however, one farmer came to the mandi without the mandatory pass. He was issued a pass on the spot. Ashu said: “Passes are issued 48 hours prior to coming to mandis. In Ferozepur, it was a rare case and was resolved. Complaints related to water supply, masks, sanitisers have also been reported from few a mandis of Punjab. But this is Day 1 and all these issues will be resolved gradually. As of now, arrival is also very less and hence we will settle the arrangements in 2-3 days,” added Ashu.
Arrangements in place
Earlier, Vishavjeet Singh Khanna, Additional Chief Secretary (Development), had stated that nearly 182 lakh MT of total produce is expected for procurement and 17,500 combines harvesters would be operating in the state.
Against the total requirement of 4.82 lakh gunny bales, 3.05 lakh have already been made available. Likewise, the arrangements for the 47,000 tarpaulins against total demand of 52,570 and 29,261 mesh nets against 32,805 required has already been made. Similarly, required wooden crates for storing the bagged wheat are also being arranged in time, Khanna revealed.
Warning to commission agents
Amid calls of strike by commission agents over pending dues, Punjab Mandi Board on Wednesday issued directions to all the Secretaries of the Market Committees across the state to initiate strict action immediately against any person found causing hindrance in the procurement operations.
While commission agents have threatened to go on strike if their pending dues of Rs. 131 crores are not cleared, but information from Food and Civil Supplies Department revealed that not all arhtiyas were backing this strike call.
Secretary Mandi Board, Ravi Bhagat, said: “It has come to our notice that a certain section of Arhtiyas has threatened to boycott the procurement operations during Rabi Marketing Season 2020-21, which would not be tolerated at any cost.” He further pointed out that the Mandi Board has already issued necessary directions to cancel the licences of all such erring Arhtiyas and warned them of further action under the strict provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
In order to ensure that farmers do not face any harassment, Bhagat further directed immediate cancellation of all farmers’ passes issued to those Arhtiya threatening to go on strike and re-issuance of an equivalent number of these passes to other Arhtiyas operating in the same mandi.
Procurement Op: Day 1
Arrival in mandis – 4,855 MT
Already Procured – 3,119 MT
Available gunny bales – 3.05 lakh
Tarpaulins arranged – 47,000
Mesh-nets available – 29,261
MSP – Rs 1,925 per quintal
Zero arrival in – Amritsar, Taran Tarn, Gurdaspur
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines