The Baisakhi celebrations of wheat farmers of Punjab have been dampened this season. The delay in the harvest of the rabi crop that is still moisture-laden in the Malwa belt due to the recent rain is just one reason. Eating into the state government’s claims of having everything in place for a smooth rollout of the wheat procurement process that began late this time — on April 10, instead of the traditional April 1 — are glitches galore.
Mandis on Day One wore a deserted look, with the seething arhtiyas going on strike. They were still tied in a deadlock over talks with the state over their exclusion as the Centre stuck to shifting to the direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme that envisages paying the farmers directly for the crop acquired. Embarrassed, the government was constrained to buckle in. Not only did the CM clear the arhtiyas’ dues from the FCI (Rs 200 crore), but he also assured them of their continued role and relevance in wheat purchase. The procurement was delayed a bit further as this necessitated a modification in the software. The development has ominous overtones for the farmers as they may yet not be fully freed of the middlemen. It has also led to confusion among the labourers over their payment mode. The state machinery was left red-faced on Day Three as the process was hit in Faridkot with Markfed running out of gunny bags.
However, this messy and chaotic transition to empowering the farmers has had a positive outcome. The stakeholders have pushed the government into confronting head-on the issue of smuggling of wheat bought by unscrupulous elements at cheaper rates from other states into Punjab for sale at profitable MSP rates in the mandis. As the authorities rip into the dubious movement of truckloads of wheat caught at the border — because of which Punjab’s farmers had been forced to sell their crop at rates lower than the MSP — the farmers of the state stand to get their rightful price. The state must race to be competitively placed with the neighbouring Haryana. Its robust wheat arrival and procurement pace was apparent on Monday as it resorted to halting the work in 18 mandis for a day!