Amid protests by farmers, the Centre has advanced the date of procurement of paddy by a week directing the states to start procurement on September 26, even as the Government of India (GOI) is yet to release cash credit limit (CCL) advance to Punjab for the procurement.
After the orders issued on Saturday, Punjab Food Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu said they would start the procurement from Sunday but the Centre is yet to release the CCL advance worth Rs 35,500 crore demanded by the state.
The paddy procurement season starts from October 1 every year and as per orders of GOI to Punjab and Haryana government on Saturday, the states have been directed to start procurement from Saturday itself. The communication from Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Distribution to governments of Punjab and Haryana has stated that in view of early arrival of paddy in the mandis, the government should start procurement from Saturday.
Punjab is, however, awaiting the CCL advance as the Centre has asked the state to first clear account of last procurement season or pay Rs 1,100 crore.
Ashu told The Indian Express that they started receiving 4-5 MT of paddy in mandis in four-five districts. He said the issue of Centre not releasing the CCL advance would be taken up by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh with the Centre, who will be writing a letter to the GOI.
“The Centre has asked us to give an account of Rs 700 crore of arhtiya charges and Rs 400 crore towards custody maintenance of the grains lying in the granaries of the state. We will clear this account. We will delay the salary of the employees for a week and pay the Centre to get the CCL advance. The CM is also writing a letter to the Centre,” Ashu said.
He added that it was strange that they had asked the states to start procurement and they were delaying the CCL. “The paddy received in the mandis on Saturday had higher moisture content. It will take two-three days before it would be lifted. By then the arhtiyas will come to our rescue and pay the farmers. By then we would be able to get the advance from the Centre. The state is in touch with the GOI. Both the finance and food departments have been pursuing the issue with the Centre,” he said.
The Centre’s advancing of procurement date holds significance in view of massive protests by farmers against the recent pieces of farm legislation passed by both the Houses of Parliament. The farmers have been staging dharnas in different parts.
The farmers are already fearing that after opening the procurement field for private players, the Centre would withdraw itself from procurement. The delay in CCL advance is only confounding their fears.
CS reviews preparedness
After the Centre’s directions, Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan reviewed the preparations for procurement and directed officials to ensure social distancing to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and that procurement be made in a staggered manner as farmers will enter the mandis with passes issued to them 72 hours in advance and only one trolley will be allowed on one pass. Mandi yards have been marked with 30ft X 30ft blocks to maintain social distance.
She said that a total 4,019 procurement centres have been set up, which include 152 main yards, 283 sub-yards, 1,436 purchase centres, 524 temporary yards and 1,624 mills. She also directed the Punjab Mandi Board and Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department to explore possibilities to increase the number of centres to over 4,500 to ensure hassle-free, smooth and timely procurement of paddy crop. She stressed that alternative procurement centres should be identified to divert arrivals if any centre is sealed due to COVID-19.
Directing the procurement agencies to ensure the lifting of procured paddy within 48 hours of weighment, the Chief Secretary said that Deputy Commissioners will be overall in-charge of procurement operations and Mandi Board will start issuing passes from September 29. Check-points would be set up and only one farmer or representative with valid pass to be allowed to enter mandis and a person showing dry cough/respiratory symptoms and fever must not be allowed at these check-points. She instructed the Mandi Board to make arrangements for 50,000 tarpaulins to save the grain in case of rain.
As many as 3,195 Guardians of Governance (GoGs) would help the government in ensuring Covid guidelines.
Urging the farmers to bring the ripened and dry crop to mandis for smooth and hassle-free procurement, the Chief Secretary asked the Deputy Commissioners to ensure that combine harvesters are sanitised with sodium hypochlorite solution and no combine should be allowed to run after allowed time. She also called upon farmers to download ‘COVA App’ to get real-time information about COVID cases.
Additional Chief Secretary (Development) Anirudh Tewari said that 30- line Mandi Board Control Room would be set up with one line for each district and it would be functional immediately for smooth procurement. The government would arrange 1,123 hand-free water dispensers and soaps, 30,000 litres of sanitizer, 1.5 lakh masks and fumigate mandis with 13 lakh litres of sodium hypochlorite to contain the spread of the COVID, besides making available drinking water and clean toilets for farmers and labourers. Arthiyas and procurement agencies have also been asked to make the arrangements for soap, sanitizers and mask for farmers and labour and staff. Social distancing would be practised during harvesting, loading paddy, in mandi operations, he added.
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