Punjab: Arhtiyas protest at Singhu border, say farm laws are death warrant for commission agents

Written by Raakhi Jagga
| Ludhiana |

Updated: December 19, 2020 11:12:43 am

farmers protests, punjab farmers protest, farm laws 2020, arhitya association farmers protests, farm laws mandi system, indian expressThree months on, the arhtiyas have continued to support the farmers agitating against the three contentious with a faction setting up a tent at Singhu border where they take turns staging a dharna. (Express Photo)

Soon after the Parliament cleared the three agri bills that were later enacted as laws, the Arhtiya Associations of Punjab on September 20 had passed a resolution condemning legislations as death warrant for the commission agents. They had expressed apprehension that seven lakh people, including 28,000 licensed arhtiyas (commission agents), their clerks, and labour spread across 1,860 anaj mandis in Punjab will be rendered jobless by the three farm laws.

Three months on, the arhtiyas have continued to support the farmers agitating against the three contentious with a faction setting up a tent at Singhu border where they take turns staging a dharna.

Vijay Kalra, president, Federation of Arhtiya Association of Punjab, claim that the commission agents from all the 22 districts of state have visited the Delhi borders at least once in the last few days.

“Initially, on November 26, when farmers started marching for Delhi after breaking the barriers, few arhtiyas had gone along with them. Later, from December 7 onwards, we started visiting the borders district wise and by December 16, arhtiyas from all the 22 districts of Punjab had visited Singhu border once. A second round of visits will start soon,” said Kalra.

The arhtiyas have set up a tent with 500 mattresses near Singhu border. The banners at the tent read: “Kisan bhravan di sewa vich (in the service of farmer brothers)”.

“On December 7, close arhtiyas and labourers in 50 buses and 80 cars from Moga, Khanna, Ludhiana and Fatehgarh Sahib districts reached Delhi and stayed there for two days. We handed over eatables and other stuff that we carried along at our tent before walking to farmers’ stage at Singhu. The district units of ahrtiyas have been donating money ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 21,000 and sometimes more,” added Kalra. “The arhtiyas going to the Singhu border carry with them bottled water (at least 100 crates each trip), food for self and dry ration for farmers”.

He said that around 25 buses and some private vehicles leave for Delhi from each district in turns. On December 16, a batch of arhtiyas from Mohali and Ropar came back from Delhi. “They reach Singhu by noon, address farmers, and handover donations if any by respective mandis to a three-member committee formed by 32 farmer unions. They spend the night at our tent and the next day move to Tikri border to extend support to farmers there before starting back for Punjab. Before one unit starts for Punjab, the second batch reaches there,” added Kalra.

Amarjeet Singh Brar, president of Moga unit of Federation of Arhtiya Association had reached Delhi on November 26 “after braving water cannons and tear gas shells”. “I have not returned to Punjab since then,” he told the Indian Express.

Kalra too had been to Delhi borders thrice, his last trip being on December 14. “Our tent is normally used by arhtiyas, but farmers too sleep there. PM calls us middlemen, but we have a bonding with the farmers. When farm unions called Bharat Bandh on December 8, all arhtiyas in Punjab kept their mandis shut for three days from December 7-9 in solidarity with farmers,” said Kalra

Jatindar Garg, president of Bareta mandi in Mansa district, had been to Singhu and Tikri borders twice. A delegation from Bareta mandi will be leaving for Delhi on December 19, he said.

In Punjab, arhtiyas have been taking part in farmer dharnas that are going on at over 100 places. “Every section of society is supporting the farmers. The government has failed to see this. When we go to Singhu and Tikri, we see a long list of donors who are ready to help farmers in whatever manner they could, despite the fact that no one is asking for it. Farmers are not seeking any help from us. It is a struggle and masses have joined hands. It (the protest) is not limited to farmers and arhtiyas alone,” said Garg.

While projecting the three laws as historic reforms, the Centre had promised freedom to the farmers from the “villainous and exploitative” Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) mandis and from the arhtiyas who charge commission from trade in these mandis.

“Farmers have been given new independence. They will now have more options and opportunities to sell their produce. It was necessary to bring these measures to protect them from middlemen,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said while justifying the legislations.

The arhtiyas have objected to the use of term ‘middlemen’ saying they were more than commission agents. They also fear that the Farmers’ Produce, Trade, and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act will eventually lead to them suffering losses to the tune of Rs 1800 crore annually in commission.

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