The ‘J form’ in Punjab

Source: By Anju Agnihotri Chaba: The Indian Express

The Punjab Mandi Board has decided to send a ‘digital form J’ on the WhatsApp number of farmers from this Rabi procurement season, which began 1 April 2022. The move, aimed at bringing transparency as well as empowering farmers, will make Punjab the first state in the country to provide digitised form J in real time. The move is expected to benefit around 9 lakh registered farmers who will be looking to sell their crop (wheat) at MSP during this procurement season. The Indian Express explains the move.

What is the ‘J form’ and how will its digitisation help the farmers?

J form’ is the sale receipt of a farmer’s agricultural produce in mandis (grain market). These forms were earlier issued manually by arthiyas (commission agents) because in Punjab, a majority of farmers sell their crops through such agents only. Also, this form is an income proof for a farmer who sells his crop. Before digitisation of the J form, several arhtiyas had the habit of keeping these forms with themselves, instead of providing it to the farmers, which was their right. Hence, many farmers ended up having no record of their income after selling their crops. But by getting digitised J form, farmers will now have a clear record of the crop sold and income received in lieu of that and it will save their time as well, ensuring that they do not need to run to arhtiyas to get copies of their sale. These forms will be delivered directly on a farmer’s WhatsApp number immediately after a sale is confirmed on the system by the arthiyas and buyers, who are mainly government procurement agencies.

If any farmer changes his/her WhatsApp number, then they can see the J forms in their digilocker, which are legally at par with original physical documents under Rule 9A of the Information Technology (Preservation and Retention of Information by Intermediaries providing Digital Locker facilities) Rules, 2016 notified on 8 February 2017. All they will need to do is feed their Aadhaar card number in the system and the digitised J form for procured paddy and wheat will be available to them.

How does the move help farmers?

The ‘J form’ can be used for raising finance from financial institutions, IT waivers, subsidy claims, farmer’s insurance. Apart from this, it can also help farmers get admission for their wards in educational institutes abroad.

“For example, many children of farmers from Punjab are moving abroad to study nowadays. At the time of taking a loan for their education expenses or showing their income, they need to provide income proof and then the ‘J form’, which is considered as an authenticate document of income in the Canadian embassy,” said a mandi board official. He added that the devastating Covid waves were blessings in disguise for them as it helped authorities to focus on the online system.

Secretary of Punjab State Agricultural Marketing Board, Ravi Bhagat, who is the brain behind this digitisation, said that the move will ensure authenticity. The digital J forms will come with a QR code, watermark and a unique number.

“This is not only a farmer-friendly service, but it will also help their families, the state and the government itself. The move will stop the theft of grains by some arhtiyas. When digitised form J is sent to a farmer’s number, then their family too can know his actual income. Some farmers sometimes hide their incomes from their families so that they can purchase liquor with the money. This will stop. The government too will benefit as some landowners — who actually are not involved in farming — show their income under farming to evade Income Tax payments,” said Abjinder Sangha , a farmer, in Gowara village in Malerkotla.

What steps were taken by the Punjab Mandi Board to make the form digital?

After getting several complaints from farmers, the mandi board was looking at methods to provide farmers real-time access to system generated authentic digital J forms. The mandi board had first experimented with the idea of digitised J form during the last paddy procurement season. the form was then available for download from the state’s website, and required the arhtiya’s login ID and password.

This year onwards, however, the digitised J form has been integrated with the WhatsApp number of the farmers.

Bhagat told The Indian Express that it took them two years to roll out the digitised forms on WhatsApp. “In the first step, accounts of farmers along with their Aadhaar card number were linked with the Anaj Kharif portal meant for transfer of direct payment in the account of farmers. After this, the land records of both owner and cultivators were recorded. In the last Paddy procurement season, farmers were provided J forms through the Digilocker system. From this current wheat procurement season, the J forms were integrated with the WhatsApp numbers of the farmers,” Bhagat said.

In Punjab, 85% to 90% of the farmers grow both wheat and paddy and all their details — including land on which they grow these crops, their account numbers, Aadhaar cards — are registered on an online portal. When they sell any of these crops in mandis at MSP, the J form automatically is generated on their WhatsApp number. In case of any change in the area on which the crops are grown, the farmers will need to approach arhtiyas to get their land records upgraded.

How will the government benefit?

The government will have a proper record of the land under cultivation for both the wheat and paddy crops in the state as well as an idea of their average per acre yield. The state can hence aim for accuracy and eventually other crops can also be brought under the J form even if the government does not procure the other crops. People who are doing sale/purchase in the mandis for the other crops can be asked to log their purchases through the J form to have accuracy of total land and production.

Can this stop the sale of other state crops in Punjab mandis?

The system can to a large extent check the sale of crops from other states in the mandis of Punjab. The J forms will ensure that the government has an idea of the total land under cultivation, and total yield. This will give them an idea as to how much quantity of a crop was grown in the state. In case of unusual procurements, the government will be able to identify accounts from which the fraudulent transaction was made.

The state has also initiated a vehicle tracking system to check influx of grains in Punjab mandis from other states.