January 16, 2021 12:07:02 pm
Terming it as a “big game and a bigger conspiracy” than the three controversial farm laws former Punjab Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu Friday accused the central government of trying to finish the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to allow “handover” of the “non-profit service provider” to two big corporates to (help them) establish monopoly over procurement, storage and retail of the foodgrains.
Talking to reporters at his residence in Patiala, the Amritsar East MLA said FCI was “a government engine”, which was being “fit into another vehicle”.
Sidhu, who before joining Congress represented Amritsar as BJP Member of Parliament, also expressed apprehensions on attempts to “tweak” the public distribution system (PDS), saying that the Centre’s plan to replace the foodgrain PDS with cash transfer into the bank accounts of the poor will prove detrimental to the food growers.
He said the number of beneficiaries under the PDS had reduced and that if the proposed cash transfer system comes into effect, the “monopoly” of corporates over procurement and storage would mean that even the producers of the crop would be left with no choice but to buy grains at astronomical prices.
He questioned Centre’s “largesse” to a corporate in terms of “seven rail network, 28 infrastructure facilities, an assurance to be paid for hundred per cent storage even if the storage was merely 5 per cent in the silos coupled with an assurance to enhance the storage rates in tune with the inflation.”
“My question is why the government cannot set up such silos,” asked Sidhu, calling it a “bigger game” which he said was continuing even as there was vehement opposition to the three agri Acts.
Extending support to the ongoing protests against the agri Acts, Sidhu said he hoped the laws will repealed, but added that the “bigger game” hitting the farming community was already on. “FCI is being killed in a well-calculated manner so that it could be transferred to two big rich entities,” said Sidhu, pointing out that FCI was “not an income-generating body”.
Sidhu also cast aspersions on allocations to FCI during the NDA government led by Narendra Modi, saying that “since 2014, FCI has accumulated a debt of Rs 4 lakh crore as compared to Rs 91,400 crore debt it was under in previous 50 years”.
The cricketer-turned-politician also said that the fund allocation by the Centre to the FCI has reduced considerably under the current government and even the allocated funds were not allowed to be fully utilized.
He said that FCI was being made to take loans from National Small Savings Fund (NSSF), at a “higher rate of interest” as compared to other financial institutions despite a national finance body advising against it. Sidhu added that the people from the poor and middle-class sections deposit their money under various schemes in NSSF and were given lucrative interest rates against the deposits.
While advancing loans, NSSF charges higher rates of interest to the loanees as compared to what it pays to the depositors.
Sidhu said the agri laws and developments to favour corporates was a “direct attack on the federal structure of the country”. He said incumbent regime at Centre was known to sugar coat things and “offer jaggery an attempt to go ahead with its scheme of things but Punjab farmers spit on that”.
Responding to a question, he said it was a social movement and giving it a political colour tantamounted to “belittling it”.
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