Chandigarh: With barely a week to go before wheat procurement begins in Punjab, the state government has decided to introduce a token system to stagger the process of procurement amid the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
The procurement of wheat, which usually begins in the first week of April and continues for about a month, is one of the most significant annual exercises undertaken by the government.
Over Rs 26,000 crore is disbursed during this period to the farmers, who bring over 160 lakh metric tonnes of wheat to the mandis for sale.
But given the extraordinary circumstances due to the coronavirus outbreak, the state government is faced with the possibility of crowding in farms during harvesting as also in the mandis during procurement.
Although a large part of harvesting is done through machines, known as combine harvesters, with only a minimum amount of labour required, procurement is done by the government in the mandis and grain purchasing centres by hiring a huge amount of labour.
On Tuesday, the government set up a 30-member control room at the Punjab Mandi Board for coordination and to provide logistic support for harvesting and marketing that will begin on 15 April under unprecedented security, said government officials.
Mandi Board oversees the sale and purchase of grains at mandis and other centres.
Additional Chief Secretary, Development, Vishwajit Khanna said in order to maintain social distancing, ground space at the mandis is being divided into 30ftx30ft areas for heaps of 50 quintals each.
“Every day, one-third of the farmers will be issued coupons, with holograms and the number of trailers allowed to bring in the produce on that day. More coupons will only be issued after the earlier produce is lifted. We have already prohibited night harvesting, with harvesters allowed to be operational from 6 am to 7 pm,” he said at a press brief Tuesday.
Police personnel will be deployed at all the purchasing centres to maintain law and order, said DGP Dinkar Gupta, adding that adequate force would be deployed and nodal officers will be appointed for proper coordination.
This is the first time since the days of militancy in Punjab that harvesting and procurement of wheat will take place amid police security.
Farmers to be checked for symptoms
Health Secretary Anurag Aggarwal said all farmers and labourers will be checked for influenza-like symptoms and wearing masks (including cloth masks) would be made compulsory.
“Multiple hand-washing arrangements shall be set up in each mandi. All trucks/harvesters going from one village to the other would be required to be cleaned regularly,” he said in a press statement.
Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who reviewed the preparations of procurement Tuesday, said the total number of grain purchasing centres will be increased to 4,000, the highest ever in the state, from the current 3,761, which was already double than that of last year.
More than 1,800 mandis have been notified for wheat procurement, apart from the purchasing centres.
The chief minister added there is no shortage of labour, with 14.2 lakh workers available to take part in the procurement.
Retired employees of Mandi Board and state procurement agencies have been roped in for the job, and dedicated staff of four state procurement agencies would also be in place to oversee the process.
There will be one food and civil supplies inspector to look after 2-3 purchasing centres to ensure smooth procurement, said the chief minister.
CM says no decision on extension of lockdown yet
Rejecting media reports of an extension of the Covid-19 lockdown, the CM Wednesday said no decision has been taken in this regard yet.
Terming such reports as purely speculative and unfounded, the chief minister said a decision in this regard would be taken after the cabinet meeting scheduled on 10 April.
The state government has been continuously assessing and reviewing the evolving situation, and any decision will be arrived at after considering the conditions prevailing around mid-April, keeping in mind the overall interest of the state and its people, said Singh.
The CM also said a task force would soon be set up to find ways to gradually come out of the unprecedented lockdown.