Saturday 24 October 2020

Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigns in protest against new farmer-related bills

Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal justified the stand of his wife Harsimrat, saying the law was unacceptable to the farmers, artisans and traders of Punjab

Differences are clearly emerging in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over the union government’s agriculture-related ordinances. Today Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) resigned. The SAD is the oldest ally of BJP in the NDA.

There is increasing dissatisfaction among the farmers of Punjab regarding the three farm sector-related bills. The SAD had issued a whip to its MPs, asking them to vote against these bills when they are tabled during the monsoon session of the parliament.

SAD’s Sukhbir Singh Badal, supporting the stand of his wife Harsimrat, said during the parliamentary debate on the affair that there were several doubts in the minds of farmers, artisans and traders of Punjab regarding the amended law. The government should withdraw this bill and ordinance, he stressed.

Harsimrat Kaur Badal says, the SAD being a party of farmers, they cannot support anything that goes against the ‘annadata‘ (food growers) of the country in general and Punjab in particular. Sukhbir Badal said that his party was willing to pay any price to protect their interests.

The treasury benches have tabled the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Agricultural Services and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, relating to farmers in the current session of the parliament. The Lok Sabha passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill yesterday.

Farmers in Punjab are indeed protesting against these bills. Harinder Singh, general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Lakhowal), described these bills as “worse than the coronavirus”. He said, “If these bills were to become laws, farmers, sharecroppers and agricultural labourers would be affected.

Terming these bills as anti-farmer, the tillers of the state have demanded that they be withdrawn. The farmers have warned in a cautious tone that they would not allow any MP from Punjab who supported these bills in the parliament to enter his or her village.

What Harsimrat, Sukhbir and farmers they represent are complaining about

Interestingly, the stretch between Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh house some of the richest farmers in the country who nevertheless get to benefit from the tax-free regime that the Indian state offers to agricultural income, considering generally farmers to constitute a class of poor people.

Section 2(m) of the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 defines “trade area” as any area or location, place of production, collection and aggregation including (a) farm gates; (b) factory premises; (c) warehouses; (d) silos; (e) cold storages; or (f) any other structures or places, from where the trade of farmers’ produce may be undertaken in the territory of India.

The definition does not, however, include “the premises, enclosures and structures constituting (i) physical boundaries of principal market yards, sub-market yards and market sub-yards managed and run by the market committees formed under each state APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) Act”. It excludes additionally “private market yards, private market sub-yards, direct marketing collection centres, and private farmer-consumer market yards managed by persons holding licences or any warehouses, silos, cold storages or other structures notified as markets or deemed markets under each State APMC Act in force in India”.

In effect, existing mandis established under APMC Acts have been excluded from the definition of trade area under the new legislation. The government says the creation of an additional trade area outside of mandis will provide farmers the freedom of choice to conduct trade in their produce.

The protesters say this provision will confine APMC mandis to their physical boundaries and give a free hand to big corporate buyers.

However, it’s the APMC Act that has for years troubled farmers from across the country, as they were forced to sell their produce to APMC markets and unable to determine the prices of their products, thus needing governments to bail them out from misery, unlike the producer-businessmen in other trades.

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