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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Punjab: They called us ‘beopari bhai’, now they say ‘lutere’

Commission agents, popularly known as ahrtiyas, are the primary link between the farmer and procurement agencies. Speaking to the Indian Express, they say that during UPA rule, BJP leaders sang a different tune. Standing by farmers, they say their own existence is also under threat as farm laws will destroy the mandi system

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Updated: October 2, 2020 12:22:13 pm
Punjab: They called us ‘beopari bhai’, now they say ‘lutere’Commission agents, popularly known as ahrtiyas, are the primary link between the farmer and procurement agencies.

Vijay Kalra (67)
President, Vice-Chairman
Federation of Ahrtiya Association Punjab, Mandi Board Punjab

Kalra works in the Makhu area of Ferozepur. “I have been in this business for the past 48 years and I am the second generation to do this work in my family. The PM said ‘that farmers were bullied by middlemen’, but he needs to tell us what job we should do after you finish us. Already the Food corporation of India (FCI) has not paid Rs 105 crore commission of ahrtiyas for this year’s wheat season, for which we worked during the pandemic. In addition, commission of 2014-15 and 2015-16 is still pending. As there are no mandis in Bihar, their farmer comes to Punjab to sell paddy at MSP as he gets Rs 500-600 below MSP price in their states. Bihar farmers work as labourers in our fields and mandis, they want the same future for our state. It is not a question of what next, as we are going to fight it out.”

Vijay Kalra

Kalra however has a petrol pump, a storage house as an allied business apart from working as a commission agent. Moreover, his son and daughter-in-law are doctors.

Jatinder Garg (62)
Federation of Ahrtiya Association

Garg works in Bareta area of Mansa district. He said, “I remember when the UPA government was in power, BJP leaders used to call us ‘Hindu beopari bhai’, and now they are calling us ‘vichole’, ‘lutere’ and even ‘dalaal’. We are citizens of this country and we are income tax payees, is this how they will address us?”

Speaking about the farm laws, he said, “They have plans to bring corporates in the agriculture field. For initial 2-3 years, they (corporates) will give good rates to farmers and by that time the mandi system will collapse and hence corporates will start paying at their will. Every year sale of MSP crops worth around Rs 1 lakh crore happens in Punjab and hence this money also rotates in the market. When distress sale will happen after a few years, the reduced income on agriculture will impact everyone as the same money rotates in the market.”

Jatinder Garg

Garg has been doing this work for 28 years and also has a private sheller (FCI gets paddy stored in such shellers and they convert it into rice and give it to FCI) which is managed by his son. He said he had studied the bills and discussed it with his lawyer friends. “Our sheller will also be no longer of any use as private companies will build large capacity shellers. However, we have not thought about any other option as of now, as it reduces our power to fight out.”

Ahrtiyas said they are the official service providers and hence ‘vicholiya’ was not a correct word, as it is being used by certain BJP leaders while referring to them. “We take official commission of 2.5 per cent which is written in government documents and are not doing any theft as we are even being called lutere and dalaal. We take commission of our services. Rates have been set by government,” said Garg.

This is the first joint statewide protest by ahrtiyas and farmers in a long time. “Our differences have been resolved…now we feel that we have nahu-maas (nail and flesh) da rishta,” he added.

Bareta Mandi was the first one in Punjab to start a ‘boycott BJP’ campaign.

Rajesh Singla (45)

Singla’s family had started an ahrtiya shop more than 40 years ago and he is the only one managing the shop, located in Bareta area of Mansa. He is a small ahrtiya who survives only on MSP crops’ sale and some lending and borrowing work with farmers.

Rajesh Singla

“I am a graduate and I have read the Bills. I am standing tall with farmers. However, I am equally affected as the farmer. Our future is at stake at this age when my kids are still in school. I have started thinking of a new job. Will open a kirana shop or a general store…what else I can do,” he said.

Tejinder Bansal (46)
Kacha Ahrtiya Association, Muktsar

Tejinder hails from Thandwala village of Muktsar and now has an ahrtiya shop in Muktsar city area. “We have a personal relationship with farmers. My grandfather got married to my grandmother after one of his clients, a farmer, suggested he meet her. My grandmother often used to tell us the story. Many times, farmers discuss personal problems with us which they don’t even discuss at home. Such is our relationship with them,” he said.

Tejinder Bansal

Bansal is a graduate and his children are in school. “If things continue this way, I may have to sell everything and plan to settle in some other country. I can’t work at someone’s shop or be unemployed. Many of our ahrtiya friends are planning the same. If the country’s government does not protect us, what is the point of living in the country.”

Mahavir Gill (66)
Ahrtiya AssOCIATIOn, Tarn Taran

Gill is a resident of Toot village, where he does farming on 20 acres land and does ahrtiya work in Patti area of Tarn Taran. “Our association sits on dharnas with farmers on a daily basis. If laws are implemented, my ahrtiya work and even my farming is at stake. My advocate son and I have studied the Bills which indicate that we need to do contract farming as per private companies and they will lift the crop from fields only, farmer will never come to mandis. Hence, we will be nowhere in the picture. I deal with over 85 farmers out of which nearly 35 take money from me as well and at times, they have midnight emergencies as well. But we help them,” he said.

Mahavir Gill

Asked what the plan for the future was, Gill said, “We will struggle, I have no thought of anything else. We will force the PM to make amendments.”

Gurnam Singh Chhina (51)
Pathankot Ahrtiya Association

Chhina is a commission agent in Pathankot. He said, “It is a wrong notion that Pathankot is BJP dominated and hence farmers have no issues. Even BJP workers have the same problems. City area somehow remained unaffected on Punjab bandh day but the rural area had total bandh. I am also a property dealer as one cannot survive only being a commission agent.”
Chhina came into this work 20 years ago and now his 18-year-old son has started handling accounts work while also managing his studies. He said, “We are affected along with farmers and along with us are the mandi labourers. Hence it is a chain reaction to kill the economy of Punjab.”

Gurnam Singh Chhina

Chhina was upset over Gurdaspur MP Sunny Deol; Pathankot falls in Gurdaspur parliamentary constituency. He said, “Sunny Deol used to wear a cap in Pathankot’s city area and turban in Gurdaspur during the poll campaign. Such an actor he was, we voted for him wholeheartedly but he did not stand by us.”

Asked what’s next, he said, “We will fight till the end. We are not going to give up so easily.”

Amarjeet Brar (63), President
Moga Ahrtiya Association

Amarjeet Brar

Brar works in Baghapurana area of the district. He said, “My son and I handle this work. Hence, my son who is still in the middle of his career is wondering what we are going to do next. Punjab is an agrarian state. We take 2.5 per cent of the total sale happening at our shop as commission, which is legal and set by the Government of Punjab, which includes cleaning, packing of wheat, loading it in trucks. I am surprised as to why Modi wants to impose these laws on farmers when they are not prepared for them. Once ahrtiyas are out, the farmer will be left alone. We stage daily protests and on Tuesday as well, we staged protest at the SDM’s office.” Asked whether he has thought of a plan B, he said, “Our gurus have told us to fight it out. This is our fight against Zulam and Zabar as our gurus did. We will fight till the end.”

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