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In farm Bill stir, Capt finds a hook, orders to withdraw FIRs against protesting farmers

The orders come a few days after Amarinder had appealed to the farmers to postpone their protests amid the pandemic as the state was set to peak.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh | September 17, 2020 10:53:29 am
Punjab Farmers, Punjab Farmers rail roko, Punjab Farmers protests, Farm bills 2020, Punjab news, India news, Indian expressEarlier, the Sangharsh Committee condemned the Akali Dal’s call of three-hour ‘Chakka Jam’ on September 25. (Express Photo: Rana Simranjit Singh)

Amid farmers’ protests against the Centre’s farm ordinances spilling onto the streets across Punjab, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Wednesday led a delegation of PPCC chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar and Cabinet colleagues to Governor V P Singh Badnore and hand him a memorandum seeking his intervention. He also linked the resentment and unrest in the state to Pakistan’s “concerted efforts to foment trouble”.

The CM, who has been pushing DGP Dinkar Gupta to take action against anyone flouting social distancing and not wearing masks, has announced that no action would be taken against the protesting farmers, even ordering withdrawal of FIRs registered against them for violating Section 144. “The farmers are fighting for their lives. They are violating the law as the ordinances would ruin their livelihoods,” he told the media, after handing over the memorandum to the Governor.

The orders come a few days after Amarinder had appealed to them to postpone their protests amid the pandemic as the state was set to peak. While cases are shooting up, farmers have been seen organising dharnas without wearing any masks or practicing social distancing.

In the memorandum, the chief minister said that any move to tinker with the present procurement system may deepen social unrest among the farmers of the state. “It may not be conducive for the peace and development of the region, which faces serious challenges of public order due to a live international border,” he stressed.

Citing Pakistan’s bid to “disturb state’s peace and stability through narco-terror”, the CM told the media that these “anti-farmer” legislations would lead to rise in people’s anger. “Why are we playing into the hands of Pakistan?” he asked.

The Bills, one of which has already been passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, are against national interest, and particularly detrimental to Punjab, where the majority of farmers tilled less than 5 acres of land and would be the worst hit, the CM said. Hoping that the Centre will back out of pursuing the remaining two Bills and not get them passed in Parliament, he said the Centre had failed to take the interest of the farmers into account in introducing these ordinances and instead, took a stand in favour of corporate houses.

With the farming community out on the streets and an opposition party-ruled state appearing to be making the right noises echoing farmer sentiment, the farm ordinances have drawn away the limelight from burning issues that were until recently plaguing the Punjab government — the hooch tragedy had struck killing about 130, an alleged scam in post-matric scholarship for SCs worth Rs. 69.30 crore and deaths due to Covid-19 in Punjab surpassing the national average. Amarinder’s party colleagues Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo had also opened a front against him. With the controversy surrounding farm ordinances erupting, the ruling party finds itself riding a high wave, hitting out at its arch-rival, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

The flip-flop by Akalis, of first taking a stand in favour of the ordinances and later retracting, has given a handle to the Congress. Amarinder minced no words when he attacked Akalis for their “theatrics” and “U-turns” on the issue. “All except SAD and BJP were on board at the all-party meeting I had convened on the issue. We passed a resolution in the state Assembly, we talked to all political parties and farmer unions and all were on board except Akalis, who are now pretending to be opposed to the ordinances,” he said.

“Isn’t Harsimrat Badal a member of the Cabinet? Why didn’t she protest there and why doesn’t she speak outside either on the issue? What did the Akali Dal do in the Assembly?” asked the CM, calling their “U-turn” a “total farce” and nothing more than a face-saver.

Amarinder had hit back at Union Minister in charge of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Raosaheb Patil Danve for making a claim in Parliament that he was on board the move. He said that Punjab was “earlier excluded from the decision” and after protests they were included but “clearly told that their opinion was not being sought but they were only being apprised about the proposed reforms. No mention was ever made of the ordinances”. He had asked an apology from Danve and found his bete noire Partap Singh Bajwa tweeting and endorsing Amarinder’s stand seeking an apology.

The memorandum requested the Governor to “recommend to the Union government not to pursue the Bills recently introduced in the Lok Sabha further to convert these ordinances into legislation”. It sought a review and reconsidering the measures introduced by the Bills, “as these are unlikely to deliver on the promises made out of them. Agri-marketing should be left to the states as envisaged in our Constitution”.

The Bills relate to the three ordinances issued by the Union government on June 5, 2020, for permitting trade in agricultural produce outside the physical boundaries of the set-up agricultural market under APMC Act, easing restrictions under the Essential Commodities Act and facilitating contract farming.

The memorandum noted that the Agriculture Produce Marketing System in Punjab has served its purpose well for the last 60 years. “It has stood the test of time. It has ensured food security on one hand and livelihood of millions of farmers and workers on the other.” It further said that a well-developed state of the art infrastructure has also been created in Punjab, both for open marketing and storage of produce and seamless transportation of produce from farm-gate to mandi and godowns.

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