The Madhya Pradesh Police filed a first information report against a trader firm in Hardas district for allegedly duping 150 farmers of over 2,500 quintals of lentil and gram produce worth nearly Rs 5 crore, citing the three farm laws, The Week reported on Wednesday.

Harda is the constituency of state Agriculture Minister Kamal Patel.

These farmers had sold around 1,131 quintal of chickpea and 1,291 quintal of green gram to Khoja Traders, a firm owned by brothers Pavan and Suresh Khoja. The firm cited the new agricultural legislations for the proposed purchase outside the government-run mandi system, and promised they would pay well above the minimum support price.

The new law permits, for the first time, trade in agricultural produce outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committee-regulated mandis. Private mandis can be set up across the country, where anyone can buy produce from farmers. Under the previous system, the buyers had to possess a mandi licence to procure farmer products, but under the new legislations, that is no longer necessary.

A memorandum by the farmers stated that they were promised Rs 6,000 per quintal for chickpea and Rs 7,000 per quintal for the green gram. The brothers said they would make the payments within two days of purchase of crops.

But none of the farmers received anything. Farmer Kanhaiya Patel of Sonkhedi in Harda told The Week that they were not paid even a single penny by the traders, who eventually stopped answering their phone calls. “They cheated around 150 farmers from Sehore, Harda and Hoshangabad of Rs 5 crore,” he also told NDTV.

Some of the farmers were paid through cheques. It was only after the cheque bounced that they realised they were duped, Anand Jat, a farmer from Alanpur village in Harda district, told The Indian Express. When the farmers tried to locate the firm officials, they discovered that the brothers had cancelled their license within three months of it being issued last year.

Finally, they decided to register the FIR against the firm. The farmers also submitted a written complaint to the sub-divisional magistrate of Khategaon. They also addressed the application to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Harda District Collector Sanjay Gupta told The Week that notices were issued to the traders based on the farmers’ complaint. Sub Divisional Magistrate Shruti Agarwal also constituted a conciliatory committee under the law. “I have also asked the district superintendent of police to register a criminal case in the matter if the farmers wish so,” Gupta added.

Joint Collector Shyamendra Jaiswal, who received the complaint from the group of farmers said, “The first aim is to reach a conciliation between the two parties so that the farmers can get their due payments. However if this fails, further action according to the farm law will be initiated.”

The incident touches upon two critical aspects of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 – one of the three new central laws of the government – and the way allows the registration of traders in private markets, and settles disputes.

Under Section 6 of the Act, the sub-divisional magistrate (SMD) is authorised to resolve any dispute arising between a farmer and a trader. This has been strongly opposed by the protesting farmers, who fear that without any recourse to the courts for remedy, they would be left at the mercy of the sub-divisional magistrate. Farmers also demand that traders should not be allowed to purchase produce merely on the basis of their PAN cards in private markets.