Vested interests misleading farmers on farm bills: PM
19 September 2020
A day after Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the lone minister from NDA partner Akali Dal, resigned in protest over the Lok Sabha passing two of the three farm bills, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday took on critics of his government’s farm liberalisation plan, accusing them of spreading “misinformation and lies”, over a reforms that is in the best interests of farmers.
“People who ruled this country for decades and were in power…such people are trying to mislead farmers. They are telling lies to farmers,” Modi said.
“Fake news is also being spread that wheat and rice etc will not be procured by government agencies from farmers. This is an absolute lie, completely wrong and an attempt to cheat farmers,” the prime minister said.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, allows buyers of farm produce to trade outside the mandi system or wholesale market system run by states under the agricultural produce market committees or APMCs.
APMC laws require farmers to only sell to licensed middlemen in notified markets, usually in the same area where the farmers reside, rather than in open markets, which economists say scuttles price discovery, hurting farm profits.
The bill enables farmers and buyers of their produce to trade outside these markets without any taxes and will therefore open up APMCs to competitions.
While making the announcement in Parliament on Thursday, Sukhbir Badal, leader of the Akali Dal and husband of Harsimrat Kaur Bdal, said the Akalis will continue to support the government and BJP but will oppose the "anti-farmer policies".
PM Modi made the remarks in his address while dedicating a railway bridge in Bihar and on the microblogging site Twitter.
The Lok Sabha passed the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 by a majority voice vote.
On Tuesday, the lower House had passed a third legislation, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.
Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the union cabinet on Thursday as her party faced heat from some farmers organisations over its initial support to ally BJP's farm sector bills. She had earlier attended the cabinet meet that cleared the bills. But after the bills were passed by the Lok Sabha, she tweeted that she was "Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter & sister".
Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal said for now, they would support the government from outside but oppose "anti-farmer policies".
Amidst Congress criticism that the farm bills cater to business interests and not address farmers’ woes, the prime minister asserted that the government will continue with its MSP purchase policy while opening another window for farmers who want to sell their produce over and above the government purchases.
"Farm bills clearing Lok Sabha is a historic moment for the farmers in the country and the agricultural sector. These bills, in true sense, will eliminate bottlenecks and middlemen," PM Modi tweeted in Hindi. "A lot of people are trying to mislead the farmers. I want to assure my brothers that MSP and government purchase will continue. These bills, in true sense, are meant to empower the farmers," he added.
The Produce Trade and Commerce and the Price Assurance and Farm Services bills sailed through Lok Sabha as the opposition parties walked out. Most of the opposition parties and some of those that lend issue-based support to the government, including Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal and the TRS, were opposed to the bills.
The government said the bills, which would replace the three ordinances issued in June, will help farmers across the country get a better market and price for their produce.
The Akalis, who initially supported the proposed laws, made a U-turn this week after realising the depth of the farmers' resentment. The party had appealed to the centre to hold off the bills till the farmers' concerns were addressed. But with the BJP deciding to push through the bills, the Akalis decided to vote against it.
"Farmers' trust in Shiromani Akali Dal is sacred to us and we are proud to preserve the glorious legacy of fight for farmers," Harsimrat Kaur Badal said. "I have resigned from Union Cabinet in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter & sister," she tweeted later.