Thousand of farmers in Punjab and Haryana Monday took part in a tractor march to protest against three agriculture-related ordinances introduced by the Centre even as Congress leaders alleged that the Centre has come up with the laws to give certain capitalists a free hand to loot farmers.
Farmers held protests at several places, including Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Karnal, Sonipat, Bhiwani, Fatehabad and Yamunanagar. In Punjab, the protests were held at Nabha, Khamano, Faridkot and Ferozepur.
The growers, owing allegiance to different outfits, parked their tractors on the side of the roads for two-three hours as a mark of protest against what they described as “anti-farmers” policies.
The Haryana Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) president, Gurnam Singh Chaduni, claimed as many as 15,000 tractors were part of the protests across the state. At some places, they were joined by commission agents (arhtiyas). In Punjab, protests were led by BKU (Lakhowal) and BKU (Rajewal) factions.
Coming out in support of farmers, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda demanded immediate withdrawal of the three ordinances.
“They are neither in the interest of farmers nor of arhtiyas and labourers of Punjab and Haryana. They (BJP) say that the ordinances have been introduced to increase income of the farmers. But it can be done by offering good seeds and fertilizers at low rates,” Hooda said.
Haryana Congress chief Kumari Selja alleged that the BJP government has “written a new chapter amid the Covid-19 pandemic” to ruin the farmers. “The ordinances will give the government’s favourite capitalists a free hand to loot the farmers,” Selja said.
The Centre has introduced three ordinances — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance.
“Rather than simplifying things, these ordinances have made them more complicated. Our mandis, which are a key part of the state’s economy, will be ruined under the new system. Only capitalists will flourish and farmers will face exploitation. Under this system, farmers will become bonded labourers,” Selja said.
Referring to the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, she said, “When there will be no limit to stock one’s produce, it will lead to hoarding and black marketing.”
Through Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, a conspiracy has been hatched to end the existence of farmers through contract farming, she said. “The farmer will be forced to produce crops according to the needs of the capitalists. They will have to depend on the capitalists for everything from seed and fertilizer to selling crops”.
She claimed the Centre took the decision without studying its impact on farmers or common consumers. “This is like their demonetisation decision and the way they brought the GST,” she said.
When asked the government claims that the ordinances were pro-farmer and will protect their interests, she asked, “Why are the farmers protesting then, why are they against these ordinances?”
A farmer told reporters in Kaithal, “If implemented, these ordinances will ruin the mandi system. Instead of benefitting us, it will lead to our exploitation as there will be bigger market forces who will control the things to their advantage,” he said
Farmers in both the state submitted memorandums to the Union government through the deputy commissioners on the ordinance issue.
Haryana BKU leader Gurnam Singh said at Shahabad in Kurukshetra that earlier every trader could buy crops only from the mandi, but now according to the new ordinance, the trader will be allowed to buy crops from outside the mandi. This will eliminate both competition in the market and minimum support price for the crop, he claimed.
In Punjab, the protests came despite Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s appeal to farmers’ outfits to postpone them because of the restrictions in place to check the spread of novel coronavirus.
“We followed all guidelines (related to coronavirus). Farmers wore masks and physical distance was also maintained during the protest,” said BKU (Lakhowal) general secretary Harinder Singh Lakhowal.
“We have fears that the MSP system will be dismantled after a certain time once these ordinances are implemented,” said Lakhowal.
The farmers also apprehended that the companies, which had been allowed to procure crop from farmers without paying any tax, would “exploit” growers in the absence of any “foolproof” dispute redressal mechanism. “The mandi board will also cease to exist which will eventually lead to exploitation of farmers at the hands of big corporates,” claimed Onkar Singh of BKU (Rajewal) faction.
The farmers also protested against the rising fuel prices, saying it would lead to an increase in their input cost.
They also opposed the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020, stating that it could adversely affect subsidized power or free power to different sections of society.
On Sunday, Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar had said some vested groups were trying to spread “disinformation” on the ordinances and mislead farmers. Khattar had said both the MSP and assured marketing will continue unhindered.
He said under the new system, farmers will get wider choice to sell their produce to anyone without restrictions.
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