Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh along with his ministers, and Congress MLAs and MPs from the state on Wednesday staged a “symbolic” dharna at the Jantar Mantar here against what he called “step-motherly” treatment being meted out to the state by the NDA government at the Centre.
The immediate provocation for the dharna was the denial of an audience by President Ram Nath Kovind to a delegation of legislators led by Amarinder.
The CM clarified that he did not want to meet the President over the farm amendment Bills — passed by the Punjab Assembly to negate the farm laws passed by the Central government — as reported earlier but to highlight other problems being faced by the state. He said the Central government has not paid Punjab its GST dues since March and has now stopped funds to the state under the Rural Development Fund. Besides, the Centre’s refusal to allow trains to ply in Punjab was obstructing movement of essential supplies not only to Punjab, which had run out of coal and power, storage for foodgrains and fertiliser, but also to other states, including the armed forces in Ladakh and Kashmir.
Amarinder said as a CM, it is his duty to apprise the President of the situation on the national and food security front. “We know that the (farm) Bills have not reached the President. It is still with the Governor… We had sent him the papers on October 20. He should have sent it to the President. The Governor has no role to play… You give it to him and he forwards it. He is a mere post-box in such matters. Why he hasn’t forwarded it we would like to know,” he told reporters. “We wanted to meet the President for different reasons. Because he is the head of our country and we wanted to tell him what the situation in Punjab is. That is our right…We hoped he would talk to the government,” he added.
He said he was hopeful that the President will give his assent to the state’s Bills, negating the Centre’s laws. He reminded the President of a precedent of the then President Pranab Mukherjee, who had assented to the Bills passed by BJP-ruled states under Article 254 (II) on suggestion from Arun Jaitley.
The CM said since the railway services are not working, Punjab has run out of coal stocks. “I have got nothing. With whatever money we have left, we are buying (power) from the national grid. Since March, we have not got GST dues. This is a constitutional guarantee that every quarter GST will be paid. I have got Rs 10,000 crore pending and they are not paying me. And now they have stopped Rs 1,000 crore of Rural Development Fund,” he said.
“This step-motherly treatment meted out to us…our funds are being stopped. This is wrong…I hope the Central government will look at us in the same manner as it looks at its own states,” he added.
Attacking the Governor, Amarinder said he was sitting over another Bill – the Punjab State Legislature (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill, 2019 — which his government had passed a year ago.
He said the MPs from Punjab have sought time from the Prime Minister to apprise him of the concerns of the state. The issues, he said, include continued suspension of goods trains by the Railways despite farmers agitating against the Centre’s farm laws allowing movement of supplies. He said railway tracks were currently blocked at only two places, which were off the main lines and connected to two private plants.
Amarinder said he had spoken to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and even assured him that the Punjab Police would help the RPF maintain security at the stations and along the tracks to allow goods trains.
He said the initial plan was for the MLAs to hold a relay dharna at Rajghat but the plan had to be changed and the dharna had to be shifted to Jantar Mantar because the Delhi Police imposed Section 144 at Rajghat.
Supporting the farmers’ cause, Amarinder rejected allegations of `anti-nationalism’ against them and said he was not in Delhi to confront the Centre but to fight for justice for the poor farmers, whose livelihood was at stake due to the Central farm laws. “We are here not to disturb peace but to preserve it,” he said.
Earlier, after paying tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat along with party MPs, Amarinder expressed the hope that the Centre will look at Punjab and its problems in the backdrop of the sacrifices made by Punjabis through the decades. He trashed any suggestion of Punjab’s farmers resorting to anti-national activities, pointing out that their agitation against the farm laws had been completely peaceful.
“Punjabis are deployed at the borders, fighting for the country, in many tough terrains and have given their blood to ensure the nation’s safety and security. No citizen of Punjab could ever think about indulging in any anti-national activity,” Amarinder said, reiterating his warning that any move by a government to tinker with religion or livelihood of the people was bound to trigger resentment and anger. The farmers are protesting because the new laws of the Centre will destroy them and snatch every morsel of food from the mouths of their children. “We are all ready to give our blood for the nation, as we Punjabis have always done,” he said.
The CM warned that failure to resolve the issues of the farmers would lead to unrest, which both China and Pakistan would try to exploit to the detriment of national security. He urged the Centre to look at the plight of the small and marginal farmers, who constitute 75% of Punjab’s farming community. He said that as Punjab’s Home Minister, he was aware of the threat at the borders, with Pakistan smuggling drugs and weapons for terrorists and gangsters into Punjab through drones every day. If trouble erupts in Punjab, the entire nation’s security would be at stake, he added.
The CM slammed the Centre over the ill-conceived farm laws, which would destroy the established system of marketing of food produce through close-knit relations between farmers and Arhityas. With just 1.57% of the country’s total population, Punjab was contributing 40 per cent to the national food pool as part of the tried and tested system, which the BJP-led central government was trying to destroy for the benefit of a few corporates, he said. In any case, he said the open market system exists even today, and cited the example of Punjab’s kinnows that are being sold in many other states. The CM recalled that during Dr Manmohan Singh’s tenure, he had once asked him why he was giving so much to the Akalis in Punjab and the then PM had responded that as the leader of the Central government, he had to treat everyone equally. Amarinder said he hoped the present government at the Centre will also adopt a similar approach towards the state government.
While he had not yet sought time from the Prime Minister to raise the state’s concerns on the farm laws and the continued suspension of goods trains by the Railways despite relaxation in movement of supplies by the agitating farmers, the CM told mediapersons that party MPs had sought meetings with various Central ministers. He himself had spoken to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who had asked for a guarantee of safety for goods trains, said Amarinder, adding that eventually that was not even necessary as the farmers themselves had allowed movement of supplies, except for two private plants where they were still blocking the lines to the coal shutters. “Why can’t goods trains be allowed on other tracks?” he asked.
The CM, who said he had chosen to start his mission from Rajghat since Gandhi had identified India with its millions of farmers, made it clear that today’s programme was not a ‘morcha bandi’ by Punjab’s legislators and MPs but an effort to bring the crisis faced by the state to the notice of the people of India.
Former Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu also participated in the dharna and hailed the CM. While the SAD and AAP stayed away from the dharna, LIP’s Simarjeet Singh Bains, Ekta Party’s Sukhpal Khaira, who is a suspended AAP MLA, and Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic) MLA Parminder Singh Dhindsa participated in the dharna.
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