E-passes, social distancing, more purchase centres: Wheat procurement to kick off in Punjab on Saturday

Wheat procurement season is set to start from April 10 in around 4,000 mandis of Punjab amid the controversy over direct payment to farmers by FCI instead of paying through arhtiyas.

This year, procurement season was delayed by 10 days by the state government owing to rising Covid cases.

The state government will be following standard operating procedures (SOPs) similar to what they had followed last year. “All the 27,000 arhtiyas have been registered by the Punjab Mandi Board. They will be getting e-passes generated for farmers in their contact. Those farmers can come in turns as they used to come during last April when a full lockdown was in force,” a mandi board employee told The Indian Express.

Meanwhile, around 12.5 lakh farmers are expected to come to mandis and expected production of wheat is around 170 lakh metric tonnes (LMT), of which nearly 130 LMT will be purchased by government agencies and the rest will be by private agencies, compared to 127.28 LMT of wheat arrival in mandis in the 2020 wheat procurement season out of which 126.70 LMT was government purchase. However, wheat production was around 170 LMT last year as well, as per information from the mandi board office. The remaining stock is sold by farmers on their own to private companies out of the mandis.

In 2019-20 however, as per mandi board records, 130.67 LMT of wheat arrived at the mandis out of which 129.12 LMT was government procurement.

Coloured slips as per day will be issued, which will be considered as e-passes. Arhtiyas will be sending those slips to concerned farmers who will come to mandis as per the day given to them. This is to prevent crowding in mandis. Farmers need to show their e-pass at the mandi gate. A total of 11,550 e-passes had been issued by the mandi board till 8 pm for farmers to come to 4,000 purchase centres of Punjab on April 10.

Sources however said that in many cases, farmers do jump the date as well. “Around 1 lakh persons including arhtiyas, their staff members and even mandi board officers will be physically present in mandis for this procurement season work. Around 12.5 lakh farmers will be coming to mandis. We are following similar SOPs as we followed in 2020 for the first time when lockdown was imposed in the entire country,” Punjab Mandi board secretary Ravi Bhagat told The Indian Express. He ADDED, “Production of wheat is expected to be around 170 LMT but arrival in mandis is expected to be around 130 LMT. Last year arrival in mandis was around 127 LMT while production again was in the range of 170-172 LMT. The rest was private purchase.”

Procurement season is from April 10 to May 31 this year while last year it was from April 15 till May 31. Prior to the pandemic, maximum procurement of wheat used to happen in around 20 days and it used to start from April 1 onwards. Mandi board officials said their staff is making 30×30 blocks for farmers at specific distances so as to maintain social distancing, and sanitisers, wash basins etc. for hand washing will also be installed at mandis as before.

Jatinder Garg, vice president of the Punjab Arhtiya Federation told The Indian Express: “We will be getting passes generated for farmers in turns and will work as before…but still the question of payment has not been resolved as of now.”

Punjab Food Civil Supplies Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu said, “There used to be 1,872 purchase centres before Covid, which were increased to 4,000 in 2020. This season, it will be the same. MSP of wheat is Rs 1,975 per quintal, procurement agencies like Pungrain, Markfed, Punsup and even FCI will purchase wheat as part of government purchase.”

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