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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

After Adanis, RIL seeks to placate farmers: ‘with you’

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) said Monday that the company would always support the demand of the farmers for “fair and profitable price on a predictable basis” for their produce, and that the company had no plans to enter corporate or contract farming, now or in the future.

Written by Aashish Aryan , Jagpreet Singh Sandhu | Chandigarh, New Delhi | Updated: January 5, 2021 1:03:05 pm
RIL on farmers protest, Mukesh Ambani, new farm laws, agriculture laws, Adanis, Indian express newsMukesh Ambani

Targeted by farmers opposed to the new agriculture laws, Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) said Monday that the company would always support the demand of the farmers for “fair and profitable price on a predictable basis” for their produce, and that the company had no plans to enter corporate or contract farming, now or in the future.

RIL also said it had, through its subsidiary Reliance Jio Infocomm, mentioned a petition before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, in which it had sought urgent government intervention to stop vandalism of its towers.

“Neither Reliance nor any of our subsidiaries has purchased any agricultural land, directly or indirectly, in Punjab/Haryana or anywhere else in India, for the purpose of ‘corporate’ or ‘contract’ farming. We have absolutely no plans to do so,” RIL said in a statement.

RIL and the Gautam Adani-led Adani Group have been singled out by farmers protesting the farm laws. Farm unions have called for a boycott of the companies, alleging they are likely to benefit from the new laws.

Last month, the Adani Group had also issued a statement, saying the company was only involved in the business of storage of grains and did not in any way involve itself in pricing of grains.

“The company has no role in deciding the volume of storage as well as pricing of grains as it is only a service/infrastructure provided for the FCI (Food Corporation of India), while the FCI controls the procurement and movement of the food grains for the Public Distribution System (PDS). We do not own any food grain procured from farmers, and are in no way connected to the pricing of grains,” the Adani Group said.

Claiming that the new rules would give undue advantage to big contract farming companies, farmer unions have alleged that companies such as RIL and Adani Group have been purchasing vast tracts of farm land in Punjab and Haryana, where they plan to undertake contract farming and set up private mandis, thereby undermining government-run mandis.

RIL sought to dispel this claim, and said it had neither purchased any agricultural land in the two states, nor would the company ever enter into any “long-term procurement contracts to gain unfair advantage over farmers”.

“Reliance and its affiliates fully share and support the aspiration of Indian farmers to get a fair and profitable price on a predictable basis for what they produce with exemplary hard work, innovation and dedication… Indeed, we shall insist on our suppliers to strictly abide by the Minimum Support Price mechanism, and/or any other mechanism for remunerative price for farm produce, as may be determined and implemented by the government,” the company said.

In Punjab, many telecom towers of the company have been vandalised by protesters in the last fortnight.

As of last Tuesday, an estimated 2,000 mobile phone towers of the company had been damaged in some way or the other, with many farmers cutting power supplies to these locations. Although the situation is now under control, the company will have to spend considerable time repairing the towers and optical fibre cables connecting these towers.

On Monday, the company reiterated its claim that vandalism had been instigated and aided by “vested interests” and RIL’s “business rivals”. RIL’s subsidiary Reliance Jio had also written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that rival companies had been engaging in a “malicious” misinformation campaign against Jio.

“These acts of violence have endangered the lives of thousands of its employees and caused damage and disruption to the vital communications infrastructure, sales and service outlets run by its subsidiaries…,” the company said.

Rivals Bharti Airtel and Vi have denied the allegation, calling it “baseless”.

“We are amused as to how Jio can even believe that Airtel would be so omnipotent as to make customers forcibly port out of Jio. If we had this power, we would have exercised it over the last three years when Jio amassed a massive number of customers,” Bharti Airtel said in its letter to DoT.

PETITION SUBMITTED IN PUNJAB & HARYANA HC

In its civil writ petition filed in Punjab and Haryana High Court Monday, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL), through its counsel, advocate Aashish Chopra, stated that RJIL is a telecommunications company which has more than 1.4 crore subscribers in Punjab. It further said that RJIL, including its parent and affiliates, has no interest and does not intend to have any interest in “corporate” or “contract” farming now or in the near future, and its business practices are completely in favour of and in furtherance of the farmers’ interests.

“Vested interests are spreading malicious rumours against the petitioner and its affiliates and are instigating miscreants to cause damage to its property and to forcibly close the petitioner and its affiliates stores and centres,” the petition said.

Reliance Jio thus sought that the “identity of vested interests and the miscreants needs to be ascertained through investigation and prosecuted in accordance with law, and vandalism and forced migration of subscribers and forced closure of stores needs to be stopped”.

The petitioner stated that more than 1,500 of its sites operated in Punjab were damaged/rendered inoperative “as a direct consequence of the illegal actions of the miscreants”, and conditions have deteriorated to such an extent that its employees are carrying out their duties under constant and looming threat to their safety and security.

The petitioner has sought direction to the Centre and states to constitute a competent authority under Section 7 of the Punjab Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property Act, 2014 and, in the alternative, seeks that the High Court set up machinery to investigate the damage caused and award compensation related thereto, in relation to the damage caused.

The petitioner submitted that it had made representations to various authorities against miscreants on October 28, 2020, and on December 26, and December 27, had also issued emails to the SSPs of 22 districts of Punjab where their infrastructure has been destroyed/damaged. A representation was also made to the Punjab Chief Minister on December 27, 2020, seeking urgent intervention, “over which concerned authorities have indeed acted upon its representations, but the need of the hour is continuing the deployment of and further augmentation of resources for protection its infrastructure and prevention of it from further being damaged”. It has thus been said that the destruction of property warrants urgent intervention from the High Court, and further the Central and tate authorities to deploy adequate resources for protection and enforcement of law and order and ascertain the extent of damage.

Also mentioning in the petition that damage to the telecom network has crippled an essential service during the pandemic, RJIL stated that it has been left with no alternative remedy and is constrained to approach the High Court.

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