Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking continuance of the existing system of payment to farmers for crop procurement till a consensus is evolved on the issue of direct benefit transfer.
Presently, the payment to farmers is being made through “arhtiyas” (commission agents) in Punjab.
Union Food Minister Piyush Goyal had written to the state government on March 27, asking it to implement direct payment to farmers.
The CM said any reform, including direct payment to farmers, should be first discussed with all stakeholders.
“Any sudden changes that disturbs the existing arrangements may jeopardise the procurement operations, thereby not only affecting the food security of the nation but also threatening the livelihood of millions of farmers, farm-workers and even traders,” he said.
The CM asserted that “arhtiyas” are not middlemen between farmers and the procurement agencies but are service providers, according to a government statement.
He urged the PM to ensure that the livelihood of farmers and all others involved in the smooth procurement of foodgrains is not jeopardised.
The CM also sought a meeting with the PM to apprise him about concerns of various stakeholders about changing the existing payment system “before the situation gets out of hand”.
On behalf of the Punjab government, he assured Modi of his complete support towards evolving a consensus amongst the stakeholders for long-term durable reforms.
Expressing concern over recent efforts to “rock” the legally sanctioned and well-established institutional and social arrangements through some guidelines and directives of the Centre, the CM said he had noticed a pattern in some of the recent “one-sided decisions and steps”.
He added that as a soldier and a farmer himself, he would like to highlight the risks and threats that are likely to be posed for the food security of the nation as a result of some of these decisions for being “completely detached from ground realities of farming in this part of the country”.
Recalling the role of farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP in ushering in the green revolution and ensuring food security, he said security systems and defences are built over decades but can be compromised and demolished in moments.
“While I fully endorse the views that as a society and as nation we have to continuously evolve and reform, and as the political leadership of the world’s largest democracy, we have to continuously think of improving, but I strongly believe that reforms are most successful and sustainable if carried out through a consultative process with all stakeholders, ensuring ownership of all,” said the CM.
He sought the PM’s intervention in the matter with a request to advise the Department of Food and Public Distribution and the Ministry of Finance to initiate discussions with stakeholders, including farmers, farm workers and “arhtiyas“, to evolve a mutually acceptable system through consensus.
He said the mutually dependent relationship between farmers and “arhtiyas” has developed over generations and it helped the agrarian system to grow to the present levels.
In fact, the relationship is a pivot on which the seamless procurement rotates, he noted, adding that “arhtiyas” provide services like drying and cleaning the produce before it is offered for auction and then bagging the produce and keeping it safely till it is lifted by the procuring agency.
The “arhtiya” thus provides services and performs the tasks that otherwise would be performed either by the farmers or the procuring agency, he said, adding that “these involve huge costs, which cannot be transferred to the farmers.”
Citing existing rules and court decisions, the CM said both provided for a “freedom” and “choice” to the farmer for payment against his produce.
Pointing out that every year about Rs 54,000 crore of payment is made to about 12.50 lakh farmers in two cropping seasons, he said there have been no major complaints or reports of non-receipt of payment by farmers.