Even as the Central government has decided to make direct payment to farmers on crop procurement, the Punjab government has raised a fierce objection to this decision claiming that it would impact the farmers. The arathiyas too are against the move threatening to go on a strike from April 1. The Punjab government is rooting for the age-old arathiya system existing in the state.
Who are the Arathiyas?
They are essentially the middlemen who act as a link between the seller and buyer of the crops. On the ground they procure the produce from the farmers directly and sell it to the mandis. It has been an established system in Punjab since 1967. At present, there are 40,000 registered arathiyas in the state who work with more than 10 lakh farmers across the state. Each arathiya works with around 300 farmers
How does the Arathiya system work?
Explaining the role of the arathiyas, the President of the Punjab Arathiya Federation, Vijay Kalra, said that it has been like an established system where arathiyas procure produce directly from the farmers and take it to the mandis for selling. “It is the responsibility of the arathiya to get a given price to the farmers throughout the year for their produce,” said Kalra.
As per understanding between farmers and arathiyas, the former is paid the money within 48 hours. Kalra says either the farmers take the entire amount or in parts depending on his needs at different points in time. A log book is maintained between the two so that no dispute arises. The arathiyas settle the transaction once they get the money from the buyer which could be a private player or a government agency. They earn a commission of about 2.5 per cent in the process.
Why are arathiyas and farmers in Punjab against the decision?
Arathiyas claim that though the Centre has been talking about a guaranteed MSP which the arathiyas have been providing to the farmers already, there is no such guarantee that the farmer would be getting the same MSP if the Union government starts making direct transfers. Kalra points out that hundreds of farmers are under debt and have to clear off their loan liabilities and a direct transfer to their accounts would prove detrimental to their interest. Also, the rule pertaining to the transfer has worried farmers and arathiyas.
As per norms, the farmers will have to upload the loan ownership records on the government portal for availing the direct payment benefits. Arathiyas claim, in Punjab 40 per cent of the land owners have given out their lands to others for farming. So for those who are carrying out the farming on these lands, availing the direct payment benefits would be difficult as they don’t own the land on record. Kalra claims the outstanding debt in Punjab was close to Rs 70,000 crore and it was the arathiyas who were bailing out farmers from the debt traps with cash help.
What is the Punjab Government’s stand on the issue?
Cabinet Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu outrightly rejected the proposal of the Centre saying that the government would continue with the arathiya system as the farmer could go back to them whenever they needed money and the arathiyas too have always been of help to farmers even if their produce is not of the same quality which will not happen if the private players come in.
Why is the Centre rooting for abolishing the arathiya system?
The Centre says the new practice would abolish the role of the middlemen and the farmers will be able to get direct benefits of the MSP. The Modi government points out that abolishment of middlemen was as part of its efforts to revamp the archaic agri laws and provide more opportunities for farmers to earn.