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Wheat harvesting: Wheat harvesting in Punjab, Haryana next week

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Representative ImageCHANDIGARH: India’s bread-basket states of Punjab and Haryana will start harvesting wheat from next week, marking the launch of the first major economic activity after the three-week lockdown that has crippled most business activity. Punjab will start procuring grain on April 15, while Haryana will commence operations five days later. The two states contribute about 65% of the grain for the national food security scheme, officials said.

Punjab announced relaxation of tough lockdown norms for villagers amid growing anxiety in the predominantly agricultural state over the uncertainty in procurement of grain after the bumper harvest, and fear that that standing crop would be exposed to rain and potentially devastating hailstorms.

Authorities have made masks mandatory for villagers, labourers and traders, while entry into the market will be regulated and policed to ensure social distancing norms for the process that usually involves 2 million people and largescale movement of trucks, tractors and people. Authorities will issue mobile alerts, enforce strict sanitary measures and regulate crop arrival in both states. “Not more than 50 farmers will be allowed from 8 AM to 2 PM, and in the second batch between 2:30 to 6 PM in the mandis. Farmers will be informed on daily basis about the schedule to bring produce for procurement. All mandis have been asked to ensure availability of masks, alcohol based sanitizers, soap and running water,” Sanjeev Kaushal, additional chief secretary, Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Department, Haryana told ET.

Farmers and labourers will be checked for influenza-like symptoms. Other steps include fumigation, cleaning, disinfection and providing sleeping areas of labour. “Foot controlled washing taps and hand sanitizers are being installed in all mandis to ensure hygiene during the mandi operations,” Ravi Bhagat secretary Punjab Mandi Board Ravi Bhagat told ET. He said a mandi would cater to 2-3 villages and arrival will be regulated to avoid crowd in mandi.

The threat of disease has dried up the seasonal flow of migrant labour from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Over 7-8 lakh workers are engaged in the mandi operations in the two states and the number has dwindled to a third this season. Even though the administration has passed on the list of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) workers to arhiyas but the labour shortage remains a big worry.

“Mandi operations needs skilled workers as it is hardy job and most are not willing to take up the work,” said Amandeep Singh Chinna, president, Arhtiya Association Amritsar. He said that the operations will have to be extended to tackle shortage of labour.

Punjab has roped in yards of rice shellers, cotton traders, vacant panchayat lands to increase collection centres to 5,000. Farmers will be told about specific days with a token with official hologram system to ensure social distancing.

“Around 50 quintal per individual at a time will be allowed in mandis and a 72-hour rotation will be followed. Mobile alerts will inform about when to allow transport vehicles to check congestion,” Bhagat said. Farmers in Haryana will be informed a day in advance by telephone or SMS to bring produce for procurement. The secretaries of the market committees have been directed to provide masks, sanitizers, and thermo-scanners at the mandi gates for farmers, traders, and laborers working in the mandis.


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