AFTER INCOME Tax officials served notices to 14 top arhtiyas, or commission agents, in Punjab and conducted searches at premises linked to six of them over the last two days, a key umbrella group Sunday announced the closure of all mandis in the state from December 22 to 25 as a mark of protest against the action.
The Federation of Arhtiya Associations of Punjab said the arhtiyas also plan to gherao the offices of tax officials and a “final plan of action” will be chalked out after consulting farm leaders.
The federation’s president, Vijay Kalra, whose house and offices in Ferozepur were among those searched, alleged the I-T action “was a pressure tactic to harass us as we are supporting the farmers’ protests” against the Centre’s new agriculture laws.
At the Singhu border in Delhi, meanwhile, farmer’s representatives hit out at the raids and said they would escalate their protest from Monday with a 24-hour hunger strike.
“We stand in support of the arhtiyas. We have also decided to gherao Income Tax offices and protest against the action tomorrow. They should return whatever they have seized. They have been raided because they support us. They have helped us a lot, with rations and money. These laws have hit them as well. If they are implemented, arhtiyas will be destroyed,” said Ruldu Singh Mansa from the Punjab Kisan Morcha.
During a press conference Sunday, the farmer leaders also called for a “Thali Bajao” session during the next radio broadcast of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat. “The Government had earlier asked citizens to bang utensils against the coronavirus. We appeal to citizens that they should repeat it on Sunday,” said Jagjit Singh Dalewal of BKU Singhpur.
According to Jatinder Garg, the arhtiya federation’s vice president, they have set up a five-member committee to coordinate with the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, which is coordinating the farm protests, to decide the next step.
“The committee will hold a meeting with the Morcha on Monday or the day after in Delhi. We have over 400 arhtiya mandis in Punjab with nearly 28,000 licensed ahrtiyas and approximately 40,000 arhtiyas in total across the state,” said Amarjeet Singh Brar, who heads the arhtiya association in Moga and has been named as a member of the committee.
Federation chief Kalra, who is also vice-chairman of Punjab’s mandi board, said his offices and house were searched on the night of December 18. “They raided my shop in Makhu mandi at midnight and my petrol pump. Over 50 CRPF personnel, I-T officials and police were involved. They asked for documents and I gave them everything. Since the keys of my shop could not be located, they broke the lock,” he said.
The other agents whose premises were searched on December 18 and 19 include office bearers of various arhtiya associations, Pawan Kumar Goyal, Jaswinder Singh Rana, Manjinder Singh Walia and Hardeep Singh Ladda.
Apart from Brar and Garg, the five-member committee formed by the arhtiya federation comprises Sukhwinder Singh Cheema, Mahavir Singh and Naresh Bhardwaj who hold key positions in arhtiya organisations. “If the I-T department penalises an arhtiya, we will contribute funds to help pay the penalty, and our support to farmers will continue. The Government must realise that this is a public movement, and targeting arhtiyas is a futile exercise,” said Brar.
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