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Arhtiyas to go on strike over FCI’s ‘direct transfer of MSP’ move

The Association claimed that Centre was taking the step to target them for supporting the farmers’ protest. Earlier, Centre had directly issued a letter to get the accounts of farmers for the direct payment and now it is being done through FCI.

A day after FCI’s Punjab office sought land records of farmers from the Director of the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department in order to make direct online MSP payment to farmers’ bank accounts from the upcoming Rabi Marketing Season (RMS), the Punjab Arhtiya Association Friday announced a strike against the move from next week.

The association also said that arhtiyas will stop procurement of wheat from next month as a mark of protest.

The Association claimed that Centre was taking the step to target them for supporting the farmers’ protest. Earlier, Centre had directly issued a letter to get the accounts of farmers for the direct payment and now it is being done through FCI.

The March 4 letter says that FCI, Zonal Office (North), Noida, has directed that land records are a must for wheat procurement in RMS 2021-22. The director has been asked to update the land records on the Annaj Khardi Portal before commencement of the RMS 2021-22 to avoid complications.

Ravinder Cheema, President, Punjab Arhtiya Association, said that they are calling a meeting of the arhtiyas of Punjab in which they will chalk out their programmes and first thing they will do to go on strike from the coming week and will stop the procurement of wheat from coming season.

He said that the state government too has a role in it as it is not giving in writing to the Centre that as per the state APMC Act, farmers have the option to get payment directly in their own accounts or through cheques, which are provided by the arhtiyas.

“We will also stage a dharna against the state government at Chandigarh if it has not made it clear to the Centre that its own APMC Act gives choice to the farmers for the payment mode.

Cheema said that there is always a scope of amendment in any prevailing system rather than to get away completely, adding that agriculture is a state subject and the state should decide it and tell the Centre rather following orders.

“Earlier, the Centre in 2019 had clearly targeted the arhtiyas and had asked the state government to do away with the arhtiya system and now they are showing themselves as the champion of the farmers by giving this new proposal of direct payment to them,” said Cheema, adding that real help of the farmers would be possible only if all their crops are sold at MSP and the three farm laws are repealed.

Currently, arhtiyas (commission agents) get the payments in their accounts, which they in turn pay to farmers through cheques. The Centre has to pay 2.5 per cent commission to arhtiyas who facilitate procurement of the crop from farmers to government agencies and take commission for that from the government.

Experts said that arhtiyas give farmers money on credit and make payment after deducting that money at the time of the procurement of the crop and if the money will come directly to the account of farmers then it would be difficult for them to follow the old practice.

They also said that before taking any such step the government should be self-dependent as facilities are being provided to the farmers by the arhtiyas in mandis including labour, cleaning fans, weighing machines, tarpaulin, filling of crops in bags, and loading it in the trucks.

“Though arhtiyas are provided charges for all these facilities apart from their commission, but government’s procurement agencies did not have all these facilities and during Covid-19 outbreak last year, the government had put all onus of arranging labour for procurement on arhtiyas only,” said an expert, adding that government should take care of all this if it wants to abolish the arhtiya system.

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