The Punjab Government has set up a 30-member control room at the Mandi Board for coordination and providing logistic support during the ensuing wheat harvesting and marketing season, set to begin on April 15 under a tight blanket of unprecedented security and safety measures to ensure smooth operations amid the COVID-19 clampdown.Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Tuesday again reviewed the arrangements for the Rabi operations at a video conference with top officials from various departments, including Food & Civil Supplies, Agriculture, Police, among others.The Chief Minister ordered the Food and Agriculture departments to immediately come out with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the Mandis and the purchase centres. He directed the departments to scale up the number of purchasing centres to 4000, from the current 3761, which is already double that of last year. While 1820 mandis had been notified so far, the remaining were expected to be notified later today.The Chief Minister today also wrote to his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee, seeking her personal intervention to revive manufacturing and loading at the jute mills in her state against the pending indents for gunny bales placed by the Government of Punjab. This was essential given the emergent situation, to enable smooth procurement of wheat for Central Pool for onward distribution in the country under National Food Security Act and other Public welfare schemes, he said.The Chief Minister said indents had been placed for 3.40 lakh jute bales from December 2019 to March 2020, and approximately Rs. 1000 crore had been transferred in advance in the escrow account of Jute Commissioner of India, Kolkata. As per the status available on the Jute Smart Portal of the JCI, out of 3.40 lakh bales indented by Punjab, 2.46 lakh bales had been cleared in inspection, and 2.30 lakh bales had been dispatched till date.
Another 10,000 bales were ready with the Mills for inspections, but the nationwide lockdown disrupted the entire supply chain, he observed. Captain Amarinder pointed out in his letter that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had already provided exemption from lockdown for the manufacturing units of packaging of food items, as well as agencies engaged in procurement of agriculture products, including MSP operations. He further noted that in Punjab too, such units have been allowed to run their operations while observing the prescribed health safeguards. The chief minister also directed the Food department to ensure that payments for the procurement are released to the ahartiyas within 48 hrs and they in turn make the same to the farmers within 2 days. The state government has already secured a CCL of Rs 23000 crore.Meanwhile, to further check overcrowding at any place during the procurement operations, the Chief Minister today directed that Arhtiyas should make their own individual arrangements for water and food rations, and no water coolers should be allowed to be set up. However, all proper facilities should be in place to minimize hassle for the farmers and others involved in the operation.The Chief Minister was informed during the video conference that there was no shortage of labour, with 14.2 lakh workers available to join the operations. Details of MGNREGA workers would be shared with the Arhtiyas, he was further told.Further, to ensure smooth procurement, retired employees of Mandi board and state procurement agencies were being recalled, and dedicated staff of four state procurement agencies (total of 1800) would also be in place to oversee the process. There will one Inspector to look after 2-3 centres.In his presentation, ACS, Development, Vishwajit Khanna, informed in order to maintain social distance, ground space at the Mandis is being divided into 30’x30’ areas for heaps of 50 quintals each.
Every day, one-third of the farmers will be issued coupons, with holograms and the number of the trailer allowed to bring in the produce on that day. More coupons will only be issued after the earlier produce is lifted. It may be recalled that the state government has already prohibited night harvesting, with harvesters allowed to be operational only from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.Police personnel will be deputed at all the centres to maintain order, said DGP Dinkar Gupta, adding that adequate force would be deployed and nodal officers will be appointed for proper coordination.Health Secretary Anurag Aggarwal disclosed that guidelines were being prepared to ensure that the Mandis are protected from COVID-19. Farmers and labourers will be checked for influenza like symptoms, masks (including cloth masks) would be made compulsory and multiple hand washing arrangements shall be set up in each Mandi. All trucks/ harvesters going from one village to the others would be required to be cleaned regularly.In response to concerns expressed by Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu, the Chief Minister meanwhile said that he would also again take up with the Prime Minister the issue of incentives for farmers to encourage them to delay bringing their product to the Mandis in order to prevent overcrowding. The procurement season has already been extended by the state government till June 15, 2020, and the state has sought incentive to farmers bringing in their grain in May and June instead of April.