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We were told about ordinances after they were notified, says Punjab govt official

Punjab government officials said that at no time during the deliberations of the meetings of the high powered committee of Chief Ministers or that of agriculture secretaries was it made known that the Centre would suddenly come out with an ordinance.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh | September 19, 2020 10:45:46 am
Good Laws In Bad TimesFor starters, why not ask the Niti Aayog to write an implementation plan for the farm bills after giving a hearing to various parties. (File photo)

A senior official in the Punjab government has revealed that the state got to know about Centre’s controversial farm ordinances only after they had been notified.

The official, who is in the know of the manner in which states were informed about the agri ordinances, said: “The first time we heard of the ordinances was in the June 5 video conference conducted by Union Agriculture Secretary who informed us that these had been notified the same day.”

The official said that the video conference was attended by agriculture secretaries of all states and Union Territories of the country. “They were shocked when they were told at 3.30 pm that the Union Agriculture Minister would be making an announcement regarding the ordinances at 5 pm,” the official added.

Several agriculture secretaries are learnt to have voiced their opposition to the ordinances, including Punjab Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu.

“When some secretaries said the ordinances should have been circulated to states in advance for suggestions they were told that ‘there would not be any suggestions and that they could only seek clarifications henceforth’,” the official said.

“We vehemently opposed the ordinances at the video conference of the Union Agriculture Secretary and said that these were not acceptable to Punjab. We said that we had a robust system in place for the last 70 years and we did not want any change. Many other state government officials also protested at the last minute information about the ordinances,” the official said.

Punjab government officials said that at no time during the deliberations of the meetings of the high powered committee of Chief Ministers or that of agriculture secretaries was it made known that the Centre would suddenly come out with an ordinance.

Another official who was privy to the developments in the meeting of agriculture secretaries held at Mumbai on September 2019 said while the APMC Act and Contract Farming Act were discussed at the meeting, Punjab had put forth its views clearly.

“We told the members attending the meeting that Punjab has already amended the Punjab Agricultural Produce Markets (APMC) Act, 1961 in terms of the recommendations of draft model Act, 2017. The major amendments include establishment of private yards, provision of e-NAM (National Agriculture Market) and e-trading as well as provision of direct marketing,” the official said.

He added that Punjab also informed the committee that the Contract Farming Act had also been passed by the state Assembly in 2013. “There was no discussion on any ordinance to be brought,” the official claimed.

The high powered committee had been formed to examine various provisions of the Agriculture Produce and Livestock Management Act 2018 circulated to states and Union Territories and to discuss Essential Commodity Act (ECA), 1955 to suggest changes in the ECA to attract private investments in agricultural marketing and infrastructure. The committee was also mandated to suggest mechanism for linking of market reforms with e-NAM, GRAM (Gramin Agriculture Market) and other relevant centrally- sponsored schemes and to suggest policy measures to boost agricultural export, raise growth in food processing and attract investments in modern market infrastructure, value chains and logistics.

Another task given to the committee was to suggest measures to upgrade agri-technology to global standards and improve access of farmers to quality seed, plant propagation material and farm machinery in agriculturally advance countries.

The Prime Minister had announced the setting up of a high-powered committee of chief ministers under the convenorship of Devendra Fadnavis, former CM of Maharashtra at the Niti Aayog Governing Council meeting held in New Delhi in July 2019 where Punjab was represented by Finance Minister Manpreet Badal

The member secretary of the committee was Prof Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog. The committee comprised Capt Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab, Kamal Nath, then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana, Narender Singh Tomar, Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha, Pema Khandu, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Vijay Rupani, Chief Minister of Gujarat and Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.

In its first meeting on July 18, 2019, when Punjab was not initially part of the high powered committee, the committee discussed ways to incentivise the states to implement various reforms in agriculture.

As per a Niti Aayog statement, “The committee emphasised the need to accelerate the growth of the food-processing sector, modalities to draw more investment in agriculture, subsidy on drip irrigation, water conservation, including the need to stress upon required amendments to the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act and Essential Commodities Act.”

In the Governing Council meeting of Niti Aayog, Punjab had put forth the view that since Essential Commodities Act 1955 is a Central Act, any decision on the proposed reform of the act must be guided by two primary considerations: ensuring adequate supply of food products and essential commodities; and states must continue to be delegated powers of the Centre for its effective implementation.

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