For the past one week the arhtiyas of Punjab have been receiving summons and notices from the Income Tax department. Also, there have been I-T raids on the premises of the seven arhtiyas, including the district presidents of arhtiya associations and the president of state level-association of commission agents. The Indian Express explains why arhtiyas are suddenly on the I-T radar.
How do arhtiyas view the I-T department crackdown?
Arhtiyas claim that they are being targeted for supporting the farmer’s protest. Apart from participating in the ongoing farmers’ protest at Singhu and Tikri border in Delhi, arhtiyas have been sending buses carrying protesters from across the state to the protest sites. They had also closed mandis as a protest for the three days from December 7 to December 9 participate in the protest at Delhi. Arhtiyas point to there being a general impression among government officials in Delhi, that they are the ones sponsoring the farmers’ agitation. They argue that this is a form on intimidation to make them end their support to the protest.
Are the arhtiyas sponsoring farmers’ protests in Delhi?
No. Arhtiyas have been participating in the protests, but they are not anyway sponsoring farmer’s agitation.
“They (farmers) have never demanded any cash or kind help from us for their protests in Punjab for the past six months. Not even for the Delhi protest,” said Punjab Arhtiya Association President Ravinder Singh Cheema, adding that if they (farmers) will demand anything from us, “we will be happy to help them”.
“They have not even asked us to participate in their protest and we are participating of our own. Now, we are sending our buses carrying arhtiyas and mandi labourers to sit in dharna for 10 days and then we are replacing them with the new protestors for every 10 days because of the health, hygiene and cold weather condition, but not a single farmer is travelling in our buses. Farmers are either travelling in their tractor-trolleys or in their own arranged separate buses,” added Cheema.
“If their children, who are working, studying abroad, are sending them USD 50-100 to help them, they are being branded as ‘Khalistani’, which is a shame,” he said.
He said that it is entirely a farmers’ movement.
“Farmers have been collecting ration, bedding, tents, blankets, quilts from village after village through their activists to supply to the dharna spots. Apart from this every section of the society is overwhelmingly coming forward to help them in this cause as the Muslim community people from Malerkotla sent them ration so it is human cause, but it is not sponsored by any one, including arhtiyas which the government is thinking,” said Cheema, adding: “Arhtiyas are not at all behind this stir financially or otherwise”.
Did arhtiyas face any such crackdown by the I-T department in the past?
“It is not in our knowledge that arhtiyas were raided like this in the past. Any stray case may take place but not that entire arhtiyas’ class was not targeted ever,” said Cheema, adding that proper procedure was not followed for search raids and raids were conducted in the night.
“Did they find any black money, any objectionable document except empty gunny bags, bedding provided to labourers during their stay at mandis from the premises of Arhtiyas,” asked Cheema.
“Wife of an arhtiya suffered a heart problem, and his parents in the 90s too faced health issues following this raid,” he said, adding that raids were conducted in the presence of two bus-loads each of CRPF personnel.
“Like arhtiyas, I-T officials are also under huge mental pressure for such unethical moves against arhtiyas,” said Cheema.
Most of the arhtiyas who faced raids informed that some officials in the I-T team told them that they found no reason to conduct the raids but have to follow the instructions of their bosses.
“Our system is totally transparent since 2013 as we have been paying farmers through cheques and now the online payments are made,” said Vijay Kalra, who also faced raids at his premises.
Who are the arhtiyas who were served notices or whose premises were raided?
The notices were served to 14 Arhtiyas and raids were conducted at the premises of seven. Most of them are office bearers of arhtiya associations at state and district level. The arhtiyas who were raided included Vijay Kalra (President, Punjab Arthiya Federation and Vice-Chairman of Punjab Mandi Board), Pawan Kumar Goyal (President of Samana Mandi), Jaswinder Singh Rana (Patiala district president of arhtiyas association), Manjinder Singh Walia (President, Nawanshahr Arhtiya Association), Haep Singh Ladda (President, Rajpura Arhtiya Association) and Kartar Singh & Amrik Singh (Rajpura arhtiyas). “Mostly those targeted are the ones who have been at the forefront in sending buses, vehicles full of arhtiyas and mandi labourers to dharna sites in Delhi and issuing statements to the press and who were quite active on November 26 to November 30,” said Cheema.
What reasons are mentioned in the notices served to the arhtiyas?
The notices/summons, copies of which were procured from the arhtiyas, were served under Section 131 (A) of the IT Act 1961. They were asked to produce source of income, copies of I-T return for three years along with computation chart, registered as prescribed in Form ‘F’ (as provided in the Punjab Marketing Committee bylaws for agriculture crops coming to you or brought by you), copy of Form ‘B’ for weighment of agri produce sold by them for the past 2 years, Form ‘M’ showing sale and purchase of each transaction of agri produce, and copies of gate passes issued in form ‘H’, books in form ‘G’ in which daily works are recorded for the past two years, copies of bank account with narration in which funds from sale of agri produce are received, names of the farmers who have sold crop through them in the past two years. Further they have been asked for accounts of those farmers appearing in their books, and any unsecured loan issued by them to the farmers, the interest levied on it along with the ledgers of the interest received in last two years.
Why are arhtiyas supporting/participating in farmers’ protests?
There are around 28,000 registered arhtiyas in Punjab who are handling the crops of the around 11 lakh farm households which include procurement of around 36 million tonnes including wheat, paddy, Basmati, cotton, maize, oil seeds, pluses etc. in the 154 main yard of Agricultural Produce Market Committees and 1,700 sub -yards,, district, block and village-level purchase centre under APMC Act of Punjab state. They own their shops in these mandis and every arhtiyas handles the crop of 20 to around 100 farmers for which they get their 2.5 per cent for facilitating transactions between a farmer and actual buyer, who may be a private trader, processor, exporter or a government agency like the FCI. The arhtiya is not a trader but like a broker who facilitates.
Arhtiyas say that if APMCs are weakened by the new agri laws of the Centre, they will lose their commission and connection with farmers to whom they also give credit.
What is the next course of action of arhtiyas now?
Cheema issued a statement Monday that said that even if government hang arhtiyas they will not stop their protest now against three agri bills. “No arhtiya will open the door for the I-T officials when they will come to raid their premises until farmers, labourers and arhtiyas will not reach the spot to organise dharnas,” he said, adding: “Also the Punjabi grain markets have been closed for an indefinite period from today and arhtiyas will go to the SC against this step of the government.” Arhtiyas had sought the support from farmer organisations against this act of government and farmers, farm labourers are are fully supporting them now.