CM seeks detailed proposal for doorstep procurement mechanism

Chandigarh, April 3: Even as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) conceded the Punjab Government’s request for release of Rs 22936 crore against CCL for April 2020, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Friday asked the State Agriculture and Food Departments to work out ways to procure wheat grain from within the villages that are located more than 1-2 kilometers from the Mandis, to check overcrowding during the Rabi season in view of COVID-19 restrictions.

The Chief Minister reviewed the Rabi harvesting and marketing arrangements through a Video Conference with officials of these departments and directed them to minimize the exposure of the farmers during this critical period. 

Captain Amarinder also directed his Chief Principal Secretary Suresh Kumar to get the rules amended to provide for payment to farmers through Arhtiyas, saying that any changes in the system, including direct bank transfers, should be put in abeyance in the current circumstances. The system of direct transfer to farmers was to be commenced from this season, as pointed out by Food & Civil Supplies Secretary KAP Sinha.

Taking note of reports of hoarding and shortages of critical supplies, the Chief Minister set up a committee of senior officers to monitor essential supplies on a day to day basis. He directed DGP Dinkar Gupta to take strict action against those found guilty of hoarding of material. 

Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh informed the meeting that supply of essentials was being ensured through smooth truck movement, with 35-40% of the usual trucks strength still operational. The process would be further streamlined as more and more trucks would be permitted to bring supplies into the state and across districts in the coming days, he added.

On the issue of procurement, while an Uber-type system of pooling farmers to the distant Mandis, on the lines of the suggestion made by the Prime Minister, could be considered, the Chief Minister said he was open to accepting the proposal of the Chief Secretary to arrange for doorstep kind of procurement of the grain if comprehensive modalities could be worked out to ensure feasibility. 

While around 50% of the villages in the state are located in close proximity to the Mandis and curfew passes could be issued to the farmers to go to the Mandis in few numbers at a time, for the villages in distant areas, the Chief Secretary suggested sending officials to handle the procurement. Arhtiyas, who currently undertake bagging of the grain in the Mandis, could be entrusted with the task of handling it in the villages itself, he added.

The Chief Minister asked the Chief Secretary to submit a detailed proposal so that a final decision in this regard could be taken in the next couple of days. He also directed increase in the number of purchase centres and the total procurement days to ensure that the farmers do not overcrowd the Mandis. 

The minister also emphasized that the procurement should fully comply with COVID-19 preventive measures. He said the arrangements will again be  reviewed in the cabinet meeting scheduled on Saturday. 

Additional Chief Secretary Development Viswajeet Khanna said incentives for staggered marketing, which the state government had already suggested to the Centre, would go a long way in checking crowds at the Mandis and purchase centres, as that would encourage farmers to delay bringing in their produce.  A total of 1.8 lakh metric tonnes of wheat was expected to be marketed this year, he added. Combine machines would be allowed to operate in the fields from April 15 onwards.

Updating the Chief Minister about the other logistics being put in place for the season, Khanna said in case the West Bengal government, which had ordered closure of jute mills till April 6, does not open the same, the shortage of bales in Punjab would be met through PP bags, which are currently under production. Of the 5 lakh bales needed, 2.5 lakh had been received so far, he added. 

Khanna further said orders had also been placed for tarpaulin and net as most procured stocks would be stored in the open. The department was also in the process of arranging for the 6 lakh wooden crates needed, he said, adding that contracts for labour and transportation had already been finalized, and area for stocking had been earmarked already.

All arrangements were in place for sanitization and distribution of masks to procurement agency staff and farmers (through Arhtiyas), said Khanna, adding that segregation and marking was being done at the Mandis for social distance. The bales would also be kept at a distance, he said, adding that during peak season, stocks would be accepted only from farmers carrying tokens issued by the administration/police.

The meeting was further informed that as many as 1498 clusters of the migrant labour had been formed in all the districts, in addition to 162 shelters/relief centres. To cope with any labour shortage, MGNREGA workers would also be hired, said the Agriculture Secretary.