On day one of procurement on Saturday, Guru Nanak Dhaba at the otherwise bustling Khanna market, the largest grain mandi in Asia, wore a desolate look. There were no farmers at the mandi, only labourers, who had come all the way from Bihar to earn money during the wheat procurement season.
- The Food Department has amended the procurement software
- The commission agents will come to know how much payment is being released to farmers who are linked to them
Worried, they said they were not sure of the process through which they would be paid their wages post direct benefit transfer (DBT) implementation. Vikas Kumar Yadav said: “I am to be paid Rs 6.06 per bag (that I fill and load) by the farmer and Rs 9.24 by the agency. Earlier, the arhtiya would give me the money but I don’t know who will pay me now.” Arvind Kumar, manager of the dhaba, did not foresee a good season. “There is much uncertainty. Farmers and arhtiyas have a symbiotic relationship. Any change in the ties can damage the social fabric,” he said.
The mandis in the state remained almost empty till late afternoon. In Rajpura, a pensive Naib Singh, 62, and his son-in-law Harwinder Singh of Thuha village sat outside the shop of their commission agent. “When I ask the arhtiya for an additional Rs 1 lakh credit in my account, it is done immediately. Will the government give me additional instant credit like him,” asked Naib Singh.
Mohinder Krishan Chand Arora, a leading arhtiya, while admitting that DBT would bring in transparency, said: “The arhtiyas should not be made irrelevant in the procurement process. It is time the Centre amicably resolves all issues.” Harbans Singh Rosha, an office-bearer of the Federation of Arhtiya Associations, said they had called off their strike on the CM’s assurance that he would get their FCI dues (Rs 200 crore) released. “The DBT is aimed at dismantling the mandi system and creating space for private players,” he observed.
Farmers Sandip Singh of Mathi village in Fatehgarh Sahib smelled a plot to help private players capture the market. “A few years ago, private players entered the mandis to buy paddy. They bought large quantities, but did not release the dues for months. It was the arhtiyas who made partial payment to help the farmers sail through,” he recalled. Suresh Sood, a commission agent, agreed with him. “Amid the gloom because of the pandemic, tampering with the mandi system was totally unnecessary,” he remarked.