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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Punjab Special Assembly Session: Disagreements on the backburner, political parties unite to support farm Bills in House

While allegations and counter-allegations did surface now and then, MLAs from Aam Aadmi Party, Shiromani Akali Dal and Lok Insaaf Party joined hands in highlighting the need to protect the rights of farmers of Punjab and reject the agriculture laws enacted by the Centre.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh | Updated: October 21, 2020 11:57:22 am
Disagreements on the backburner, political parties unite to support farm Bills in HouseAll party MLAs along with Punjab CM Amarinder Singh outside Punjab Raj Bhawan on Tuesday. (Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

THE BICKERING and finger-pointing was at a bare minimum as political parties managed to speak in one voice, in favour of the farmers’ Bills brought by the state government in the Vidhan Sabha today.

While allegations and counter-allegations did surface now and then, MLAs from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) joined hands in highlighting the need to protect the rights of farmers of Punjab and reject the agriculture laws enacted by the Centre.

The ball was set rolling by the Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who spoke for 24 minutes and outlined how the Centre’s laws were “detrimental” to the farmers of the state.

He slammed the Centre for trying to “finish” Punjab with the farm laws, and questioned the Prime Minister if this action was justified.

“The Centre has ignored the farmers of Punjab since other states have now also started providing food grains to the country,” he said, accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) squarely of sidelining the state’s agriculture.

“They forgot how Punjab saved the country and came to its rescue to feed the nation for 70 years,” he added.

Pointing out that the state government had not been paid its promised GST, Captain Amarinder questioned the Centre over failure to adhere to the constitutional guarantees.

Referring to the backdrop of these legislations, the chief minister said the seeds of the crop the state was harvesting today were actually sown back in 2015 by the Shanta Kumar Committee, which recommended “to explore the possibility of compensating the farmers when prices fall below MSP instead of physically handling the large quantities of grains…This will help in bringing rationality in procurement operations and bringing back private sector in competition with state agencies in grain procurement”.

Captain Amarinder made it clear that his government would not allow the state’s farming community and agriculture, which were the backbone of its growth and development, “to be ruined by BJP through such devious methods”. His government’s four Bills, said the chief minister, were aimed at preventing the damage that the central laws would cause to the state and its agriculture, while allaying the fears of farmers and consumers.

AAP MLAs also vehemently opposed the laws on agriculture brought in by the Modi government at the Centre.
The AAP MLAs, while supporting the three agriculture Bills introduced by the Punjab government, said Punjab government should bring government procurement mechanism of all crops under MSP under ambit of law.

Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema, terming the agriculture acts akin to “signing of a death warrant for farmers”, alleged that the Union government had not taken the farmers and other stakeholders into confidence.

He urged the government that it should come up with a bill to this effect to ensure that the government would procure all the crops at MSP.

When Chief Minister Amarinder Singh expressed his government’s inability to undertake such a guarantee, saying that the state government did not have the wherewithal as of now, the LoP said that if the state government succeeded in nailing the mafia calling the shots in Punjab, the government could ensure MSP on all crops on its own.

SAD MLA Sharanjit Singh Dhillon said that the matter should not rest with the Bills being passed by the House and the MLAs meeting the Governor with the resolution. “We should go to New Delhi and meet the Prime Minister to show him that we will not let the interests of the state be harmed,” said Dhillon.

Bikram Singh Majithia said it was imperative that the state MLAs should also meet the President because the Bills would not amount to anything if the Governor and the President did not give their consent to it.

Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Randhawa said that the Union government, in the garb of Covid-19, has framed three laws which are anti-farmer in nature and broken the backbone of farmers, labourers and arhtiyas.

He added, “I belong to that region where Guru Nanak Dev practiced agriculture and gave the message of work being worship, so agriculture is not an income source or just a profession for us but a legacy bestowed by Guru Nanak Dev.”
Randhawa said it is ironic that persons i.e. PM Narendra Modi and the Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar, who don’t possess even an inch of cultivable land, are taking decisions with regard to agricultural sector.

“The Union government should beware of imposing its dictatorial directions on Punjab considering it a mere two per cent of the country’s population because it is the same Punjab which didn’t bow before Mughals, Abdali and the British. The Punjabis who are just two percent of the population of the country, made 80 percent contributions in the freedom movement and also contributed 50 per cent in meeting the needs of the country with regard to food grains,” he said, warning the central government that a race which was born out of struggles cannot be suppressed.

AAP MLA Rupinder Kaur Ruby said the Punjab government should ensure that the agricultural marketing regimen should be kept intact in Punjab, adding that the government in the saddle, should extend MSP to all crops instead of keeping it confined to wheat and paddy only.

Ruby said that as long as the loopholes in the procurement norms are not plugged, the exploitation of farmers at the hands of private buyers could not be stopped. She added that the government should renovate the canals in the state, exempt diesel from state tax and provide free electricity to small scale industries.

AAP MLA Budhram said that the central laws were aimed at turning farmers of Punjab from owners to mere tillers. Baljinder Kaur of AAP said government should give import-export rights to its procurement agencies, including Markfed, PUNSUP, Warehouse, Pungrain etc.

She said cotton growers were being ‘looted’ in the Malwa mandis while those growing maize crop were being fleeced in the Doaba mandis, urging the government to immediately stop this open ‘loot’.

MLA Gurmeet Singh Hayer said Punjab’s revenue should be increased in view of future challenges faced by the agrarian state so that the government of Punjab was able to have the MSP on its own. Citing examples of Tamil Nadu and Telangana states, Hayer said, “If by pursuing pro-state policies, the Tamil Nadu government can earn a whopping Rs 32,000 crore from excise tax and Telangana mining can increase revenue from Rs 400 crore to Rs 4,000 crore, why can’t Punjab?”

Sidhu speaks after Amarinder

Estranged Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu was given the turn to speak immediately after Capt Amarinder Singh in the debate in the House Tuesday.

Supporting the legislations, Sidhu said these were a tight slap to the Centre, the echo of which will reverberate nationally. He said the sacred struggles of the farmers have matured in the form of the Bills being passed today.

Referring to Capt Amarinder’s offer to resign if need be, Sidhu said his sacrifice will yield long-term positive results for Punjab. “We never needed green revolution. It was forced upon us,” said Sidhu, adding that Sonia Gandhi’s vision will save the farmers. He was referring to Sonia’s direction to Congress states about negating the Centre’s laws by using Article 254 (2) of the Constitution.

Sidhu said the Centre’s laws will destroy the lives of farmers, ahrtiyas and labourers, demolish the agriculture infrastructure of the state and make it lose Rs 5,000 crore annually. “Our four decade old farming legacy is being destroyed,” he said.

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