By Vishal Joshi
Paddy procurement came to a halt on Wednesday after arthiyas (commission agents) and rice-millers went on strike in Punjab on Wednesday in support of their demands.
Bathinda Arhtiya Association president Satish Kumar said the commission agents are facing loss due to the Centre’s “poor policy-making”.
“We are entitled to 2.5% daami or commission on the paddy purchased by government agencies. In accordance with the revised minimum support price (MSP) of ₹2,203 a quintal for the current kharif procurement, it should have been ₹55.08 a quintal. But the Centre has frozen the commission at ₹45.86, which is unacceptable,” Kumar said.
Punjab Mandi Board officials said they expect a fall in paddy arrival at the grain markets as the agents have told farmers to avoid bringing produce to purchase centres to avoid inconvenience.
On October 10, 2.28 lakh tonnes of paddy had arrived in purchase centres of the state. The board said 11.76 lakh tonnes of paddy has arrived so far since October 1.
Chanderkant Garg, the vice-president of the Mansa District Arthiya Association, said labour charges should be increased so that the workforce can be retained at the grain markets.
Ranjeev Raheja, a commission agent from Abohar, said that a silo run by a corporate house in Moga was reluctant to pay commission to the agents for the wheat procured in April this year. “The management of the silo was paying commission agents according to norms for seven years but this time when wheat was bought through the agents, they were denied payments. The state government should pursue this with the Centre,” he said.
Millers to meet in Ludhiana on Friday
Rice-millers, engaged in milling non-basmati varieties for government agencies, have gone on an indefinite strike against the Food Corporation of India (FCI) guidelines regarding the acceptance of only fortified rice kernels (FRK). Rice is fortified by adding a micronutrient powder that sticks to grains in layers with a vitamin and mineral mix in the form of a coating. FRKs blended with custom-milled rice (CMR) in a specific ratio are supplied for public distribution as part of the Centre’s plan to tackle malnutrition and reduce nutrient deficiency.
Punjab Rice Millers Association president Tarsem Saini said rice fortification was started in 2021 as a pilot project, and Punjab produced 80 lakh tonnes last year.
“The millers source fortification material from the agencies prescribed by the government and the FCI holds the former responsible if the nutritious value is not according to the requirements. The millers’ role is only to blend and they cannot be blamed for poor supply, if any, by the government-approved agencies,” he said.
The association laments the FCI’s decision to reduce the cost of gunny bags, too. Saini said the association will not supply bags in mandis.
“For several years, millers were being paid ₹7.32 per gunny bag to pack paddy but two weeks ago, the FCI revised the rates to ₹3.75 a bag. Worse, the central agencies have decided to recover ₹3.75 per bag from millers from 2017-18 onwards. This is unjust. A general house meeting has been called in Ludhiana on Friday to decide on the course of action. Till then, our strike will continue,” Saini said.
Official sources in the state food and civil supplies department said procurement operations might be hit if the strike by both crucial stakeholders continues. “Millers provide 50% of the required gunny bags and it would impede lifting the grains from mandis if they do no resume work soon,” a senior official said, requesting anonymity.
This article has been republished from The Hindustan Times