- FM of Punjab on Thursday, Manpreet Singh Badal said the state government has “no alternative” but to follow the Centre’s mandated order.
- Amarinder Singh, Punjab’s CM, called a meeting with ‘arthiyas’ (commission agents) on Friday to discuss a new process in advance of wheat procurement.
Manpreet Singh Badal, Punjab Finance Minister, said on Thursday that the state government has “no alternative” but to follow the Centre’s mandated instruction on direct bank transfer of MSP to farmers starting this season.
Badal said the Centre rejected the state government’s demand for more time to introduce direct bank transfer (DBT) of minimum support price (MSP) to farmers after a lengthy discussion with Union Food Minister Piyush Goyal on the subject.
On Friday, the Punjab Chief Minister will meet with ‘arthiyas’ (commission agents) to discuss a new process in advance of wheat procurement, which will begin on April 10.
Under the National Food Security Act, Punjab procures wheat and rice at MSP on behalf of the federal government (NFSA). Currently, MSP is paid to farmers in Punjab via arthiyas rather than directly to their bank accounts as it is in other states.
“We were asked by the Government of India (GoI) to introduce the DBT for farmers. Since Punjab has a conventional arthiyas method, we had requested more time…. However, the GoI turned down our request. We tried everything, but they didn’t listen, “Badal told reporters after the meeting ended after 2.30 hours.
According to him, the state government has “no choice” but to enforce the DBT for farmers starting this season, and a new mechanism will be established.
Badal cited the central government’s arguments for refusing Punjab’s demand, claiming that the food stock procured belongs to it and that the state government is merely an agent who should pay farmers directly.
Manpreet Singh Badal, further explained, “Even so, arthiyas are a traditional system that must be understood. This system is difficult to decipher…. We’ll come out of some kind of mechanism.”
The meeting also included Punjab Food Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Public Works Department Minister Vijay Inder Singla, and Mandi Board Chairman S Laal Sing. There were also senior officials from the Union Food and Agriculture Ministries in attendance.
According to Punjab’s Food Minister, “We’ll meet arthiyas tomorrow and include them too. We’ll devise a mechanism to provide arthiyas with some protection. The chief minister has scheduled a meeting with the arthiyas for tomorrow.”
“The payment will go directly into the (bank) account of farmers,” he said, adding that wheat procurement will begin on April 10 and that “every grain will be purchased.”
Sudhanshu Pandey, the Union Food Secretary, told PTI, “During the meeting, Punjab ministers decided to start implementing the DBT for farmers this season. MSP payments are currently made by arthiyas. We are requesting that they pay farmers directly.”
In 2018, state governments were asked to roll out DBT to farmers. Except for Punjab, almost all states had begun to enforce it by 2019, he said.
The Punjab Finance Minister said, among other things, that the Centre has agreed to delay for six months the implementation of land records integration (which is expected to monitor land ownership of farmers during procurement).
On the release of the pending rural development Fund (RDF) to the state government, the minister said that Punjab would receive about 3% of the RDF. The state receives just 1%, with the remaining 2% pending.
“The reason given by us to the GoI has not been accepted. They promised that if the state government provides a convincing explanation for where the funds were spent, the GoI would release the 2% fee arrears “he said.
In the meeting, the Punjab Finance Minister expressed concern about the state’s food grain stockpiles and demanded that they be liquidated as soon as possible to make room for the new crop.
“The Government of India has assured us that it will take food grains stock out of Punjab,” he said, adding that the Centre has also assured him that the state’s dues of Rs 15,000 crore will be released as soon as possible.
The minister also told the Centre that the state would distribute fortified rice through the Public Distribution System and welfare programmes such as the Midday Meal Scheme.