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This is how Punjab is planning to harvest and procure wheat during lockdown

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Closed shops at a market in Amritsar, Punjab, in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown (representational image) | PTI


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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.


Also read: Preacher who was Punjab’s 1st Covid-19 death could have been a ‘super-spreader’


Token-wise procurement

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.


Also read: The fall of NRI: How Covid-19 has altered the image of Punjab’s darling community


 

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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’

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A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay


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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”


Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot


‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.


Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


 

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