Ravi S Singh
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, September 20
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Sunday said minimum price or the MSP-based procurement of agriculture crops from farmers will continue and was not related to the farm bills that sought to give cultivators the freedom to market their produce.
Days after their passage in the Lok Sabha, Tomar introduced the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, in the Rajya Sabha.
The bills are facing staunch opposition from farmer bodies as well as from within the ruling coalition. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the food processing minister from the Shiromani Akali Dal party, resigned from the government last week.
KK Ragesh (CPI), Derek O’Brien (TMC), Trichi Siva (DMK) and KC Venugopal (Congress) moved resolutions for sending the two bills to a select committee of the House for consideration before they are taken up for passage.
Speaking at the introduction, Tomar said the two bills were “historic and will bring a revolutionary change in farmers’ lives”.
They seek to remove restrictions on marketing farm products and allow cultivators to engage with private companies to sell their crops.
“Farmers will get the freedom to sell their produce at any place and person of their choice,” he said adding the bills were brought after feedback from stakeholders that the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) was not doing justice to farmers.
The bills sought to bring competition and ensure a fair price to farmers, he said.
“There are misconceptions being spread about the minimum support price (MSP). MSP is the government’s administrative decision and not linked to the bills. MSP based procurement was there in the country, is there, and will continue,” he said.
Under MSP, the government guarantees the procurement of crops such as wheat and paddy at minimum prices from farmers.
The Opposition parties, as well as the SAD, feel the bills are the first step toward removing the MSP which will force the farmers to make distress sales to private companies.
“Union Government wants to help corporates”
In the opening burst of a heated debate on the Bills, Congress MP from Punjab Partap Singh Bajwa said the Union government wanted to help the corporates at the cost of farmers through these bills.
The farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh will be most affected, negatively, he added.
The government was going ahead with the bills in spite of farmers of Punjab and Haryana having hit the streets against them.
CPI's Ragesh said the country was witnessing massive agitation by farmers over the bills. “I request the minister and the government to see the wrath of farmers and withdraw these orders and bills.”
Opponents of the bills see them as an attempt to dilute the country’s public procurement system and lead to exploitation by private companies.
Manoj Jha of the RJD also opposed the Bills.
SS Dhindsa, who had broken away from the SAD of in Punjab and floated a new party, also opposed the Bills.
He demanded referring them to the Select Committee for wider consultation with farmers to allay their apprehension and remove the infirmities in the legislation.
He said: “The farmers of Haryana and Punjab feel let down.”
Refer Bills to House's Select Committee
Naresh Gujral of the SAD demanded referral of the Bills to House’s Select Committee.
“The people of Punjab have historically stood against injustices, including against the Congress, and will continue to do so against unfair treatment in future,” he said, urging Tomar to not allow the embers against the Bills in Haryana and Punjab to turn into a conflagration.
Gujral also resented for being allotted only two minutes time in the discussion to put his party’s points.
The same farmers of Punjab, who enriched the food bowl of the country, felt that their interest was being “sold” to corporates, he added.
Gujral, however, lauded the NDA government for having taken measures for agriculture and farmers in the past six years than the preceding 10-year rule of the UPA.
BJP comes in support of the Bills
In a counter, Bhupender Singh Yadav of the BJP, who is a Member of the House from Rajasthan, but a native of Haryana, tore into Congress asking why farmers’ income had not increased in the past 73 years.
JD(U), an ally of the NDA, supported the Bills.
Coming in defence of government regarding the Bills, Surendra Nagar of the BJP said presently the farmers of Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh were not able to sell ‘jagari’ — agro-related produce — in Bihar where they could get a better price.
Lashing at the Congress, he added that although it ruled for long, it never empowered the farmers. He also charged it of indulging in hypocrisy by opposing the Bills.
He also questioned the Left parties as to why the APMC Act was not prevalent in Kerala if they were concerned about farmers.
Former prime minister HD Devegowda said there was apprehension regarding the MSP. He also raised questions on the need for the Bills at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposed reforms in the bills were also the recommendations of an agriculture-related committee during Manmohan Singh-led UPA government. The Committee was headed by the then chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Tongue-in-cheek, Yadav said criticism of the Congress of these progressive bills was reminiscent of the bogey raised in some quarters in Punjab in the 1970s against the Bhakra Dam that it would take away power from water of the rivers.
While Bajwa claimed credential on subject agriculture, saying he was a son of a farmer from Punjab, Yadav hit out saying he was farmer’s son from Haryana.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, seeks to give freedom to farmers to sell their produce outside the notified APMC market yards (mandis). This, the government says, is aimed at facilitating remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels.
Farmers will not be charged any cess or levy for sale of their produce
Farmers will not be charged any cess or levy for sale of their produce under this Act, according to the government.
It will open more choices for farmers, reduce marketing costs, and help them get better prices. It will also help farmers of regions with surplus produce to get better prices and consumers in areas with shortages at lower prices.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, seeks to give farmers the right to enter into a contract with agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers for the sale of future farming produce at a pre-agreed price.
It seeks to transfer the risk of market unpredictability from farmers to sponsors.
Tomar said this legislation guaranteed cultivators price they negotiate at the time of sowing itself.
A third bill, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, that seeks to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion, and potatoes from the list of essential commodities and will do away with the imposition of stock holding limits, is to be moved separately.
Rajya Sabha breaks into pandemonium
The Rajya Sabha breaks into pandemonium at the time of process for voting on the Bills following reply by Agriculture Minister Tomar.
Opposition members walked into the Well and also tried to use force to tamper with the public address system at the Chair’s Desk.
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