Terming the 2.5 per cent commission being offered to arhtias (commission agents) during the ongoing wheat procurement in Haryana as “an unfair and unjust burden on the national exchequer”, senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka has written to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar suggesting that the government should allow purchase of wheat from outside the state to earn “an additional revenue of four per cent”.
“At an estimated procurement of 90 lakh tonnes of wheat crop, the arhtia commission will amount to around Rs 430 crore in Haryana…All incidental expenses from the stage of arrival of grains to temporary stacking in the mandis is recovered by the arhtias, partly from farmers and rest from state agencies. The state steps in to support farmers at MSP when the arhtia fails to find a buyer for the produce. Hence the arhtia commission at 2.5 per cent is an unfair and unjust burden on the national exchequer,” Khemka has written.
The officer also raised various points regarding the “online payment to farmers” and suggested that a thorough scrutiny “will reveal the true extent of exploitation of the farmers”.
“An online portal – ‘Meri Fasal Mera Byora’ – has been developed by HSAMB to enable online payment to farmers. In the case of wheat, the procuring agencies are making payments to arhtias and not directly to farmers. This supports their exploitation knowingly or unknowingly. The arhtia after adjusting his own dues pays only the balance to the farmers. Such an adjustment is not lawful unless the farmer gives his willing consent…Sale to the state through an arhtia is forced upon the farmer because no agency of the state does a direct purchase in the mandi,” Khemka wrote.
He added that the act of the state “authorizing adjustment with the dues of the arhtia” is tantamount to guaranteeing the credit business of the arhtia. “Whatever is not transferred online to the farmers by the arhtia can be reasonably presumed to be money adjusted by him against his own dues. The state by foregoing the guarantee fee payable on such transactions loses substantial revenues,” he wrote.
The officer also suggested that the state should allow purchase of wheat from outside Haryana. “Because of weak procurement systems in neighbouring states, a sizeable quantity of wheat produced in neighbouring border areas is procured in our state. The outside state farmer pays bribe at barriers and accepts a lower rate from the arhtia. The arhtia earns an additional margin on sale of such wheat to the state agency at MSP. The malpractice thrives throughout the territory of India, unless restrictions are imposed by law. A farmer is free to sell his produce anywhere in the country. If MSP purchase is allowed of outside state wheat, the state agencies will earn additional revenues of 4 per cent from the national exchequer. To stop rampant corruption in inter-state trade of wheat, it must be made clear by public advertisements whether outside state will be purchased under MSP or not,” he added.
While the Centre had been emphasizing that the states must indulge in “direct transfer of money” to the farmers, the Haryana government had been resisting it citing various operational difficulties. Before the procurement began last month, Haryana tried bypassing the arhtias and announced that the money will be transferred directly to farmers’ accounts. However, that resulted in a protest by arhtias across the state forcing state government to go on a back foot.
There are approximately 10,000 arhtias and nearly 50 lakh farmers across Haryana. The state agencies procure wheat, paddy, maize and mustard etc and pay about Rs 10,000 crore MSP annually to the farmers for the procured grains.
‘We are a farmer-friendly government’
Meanwhile, state Agriculture Minister JP Dalal tattled off figures to justify why the ruling coalition was a farmer-friendly government. “To meet the risks during Kharif season, the state government in 2016 had launched Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, covering millet, paddy, cotton, maize, wheat, gram, wheat, mustard and sunflower crops. Till now 50.37 lakh farmers have been registered under the scheme and Rs 825.69 crore has been taken as premium from 12.09 lakh farmers, while an amount of Rs 2546.96 crore has been paid as insurance money”.
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