Wheat procurement in Punjab, the country’s highest contributor at over 46 per cent of the central pool, has been taking place under challenging circumstances during the pandemic. Yet, despite being short of migrant labour and restricting the number of people in mandis, Punjab has already procured three-quarters of its target for the national pool — 10.5 million tonnes out of 13.5 million tonnes — with over a month to go before the extended procurement season ends on June 15.
Punjab has had a bumper crop, and needs a labour force of 3.5 lakh to 4 lakh to meet the procurement target of 13.5 million tonnes. But 90% of its usual labour force comes from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They were meant to have reached Punjab during the first week of April, ahead of the procurement season starting April 15. This did not happen once the lockdown was announced.
To prevent a rush in mandis, the government extended the procurement season by a month, until June 15. Three weeks into the season, the state has already procured 77% of the target. Of this, 7 million tonnes has been transported to government godowns.
Twice as many mandis
The Food and Civil Supply Department along with the Punjab Mandi Board (PMB) have set up 3,447 wheat purchase centres, up from the existing 1,849 grain markets. The other 1,598 are rice sale centres that have been converted into wheat purchase centres with the same strength of employees.
The government has set a target of 27 lakh coupons for farmers, who can come to the mandi only when his/her turn arrives. By May 6, it has issued around 13,80,000 coupons, or half the final target. Every day, 70,000 to 1 lakh coupons are being issued.
Procurement has been staggered. Data with PMB show there has not been a single day when the arrival of wheat has touched 7 lakh tonnes, even during the peak phase (April 20-May 1). In previous years, the peak days would see 9 to 11 lakh tonnes arriving daily.
Transportation to godowns and storage units of the FCI (Food Corporation of India) is being done by designated trucks. Not more than 4 to 5 lakh tonnes is being transported daily across the state.
“We are preventing crowds in mandis as the coupons are being issued in a staggered manner,” said G P S Randhawa, general manager, PMB. A control room has been set up for enquiries and complaints. So far, around 3,000 complaints have been received and all were addressed, he said.
📢 Express Explained is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@ieexplained) and stay updated with the latest
The government has loaded a record 25.77 lakh tonnes of wheat and rice on 1,031 special trains, Punjab Food and Civil Supply Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu said.
Arranging for labour
With not even 10% of the labour force available this year, Punjab turned to the networking skills of its 27,000 registered arhtiyas (commission agents). Each of them engaged 15 to 20 workers, mostly people working in urban sectors such as construction or catering, and even taxi drivers. The arhtiyas have provided them with masks, soap and sanitisers, and arranged for accommodation of those who want to stay in the mandis.
Also, each agent is responsible for 20 to 200 farmers, whose crop he sells, and coupons for entry in the mandis.
“The remaining harvest (3 million tonnes out of 13.5 mn tonnes) is with the big farmers. We have to first sell the crop of marginal and small farmers,” said Vijay Kalra, president of the Federation of Arhtiya Associations, Punjab.
Don’t miss from Explained | Covid-19 vaccine: Search, progress
The Bhartiya Kisan Union said the government is over-dependent on arhtiyas. The union’s general secretary in Dakuanda, Jagmohan Singh, said the arhtiyas are managing everything and they exploit farmers.
Principal Secretary, Food and Civil Supplies, K A P Sinha told The Indian Express that so far, Rs 10,000 crore has been released to the arhtiyas, who have transferred it online to the accounts of farmers.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines