Updated: February 9, 2021 9:01:48 am
EMPHASISING that his government is not going to withdraw the three contentious farm laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday asked political parties and the protesting farmers to give “reforms” a chance. He urged the farmers to call off the agitation and come to the discussion table, assuring them that if there are any shortcomings and loose ends in the laws, these can be addressed.
Replying to the debate on the motion of thanks on the President’s Address, the Prime Minister also promised that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism “was there, is there and will remain”. He signalled that procurement of food grains too will go on, saying that rations which are being given to 80 crore people at lower rates will continue.
Emphatically stating that the time for reforms in the agricultural sector has come and the opportunity should not be wasted, Modi said these changes had been talked about for around two decades but successive governments had failed to carry them out.
In a signal to farmers outside Punjab and Haryana, who are leading the protests against the laws, he said 12 crore or 86% of the farmers in India are small farmers with less than 2 hectares of land, and 68% with less than 1 hectares, and said farmers like them are always at the centre of his government’s policies and programmes.
Quoting Chaudhary Charan Singh, one of the country’s tallest farm leaders, who belonged to Western Uttar Pradesh, from where farmers have joined the agitation in large numbers, Modi said he was always concerned about small farmers. Singh would often say that 51% of the farmers as per the 1970-71 agricultural census owned less than 1 hectares of land, the PM said.
“Don’t we have any responsibility towards these 12 crore (small) farmers… Should we not keep them at the centre of our policies? Chaudhary Charan Singh had left this question to us… We have to find answers.” Small farmers should be freed from all shackles like dairy farmers, he said.
Addressing the Opposition, Modi said, “Sharad Pawar and those from the Congress… every government has advocated reforms in the agricultural sector. Whether they could do or not… everybody said there should be reforms… Pawar recently said he was in favour of reforms. He may have questions in his mind about the method but did not oppose the reforms… You can, of course, attack the government over the agitation but you could have also told the farmers that changes are necessary.”
Calling resistance to any reforms natural, Modi said even former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had to face stiff opposition to changes resulting in the Green Revolution. “Despite record production, there are problems in our agricultural sector, nobody can deny that,” Modi said. “But we have to address the problems together.”
He added, “Every law is improved two or five years… two-three months… we don’t live in a static state. When good suggestions come, good changes are made. Every government has accepted good suggestions. That is the tradition of democracy. So to do something good, with good suggestions, let’s move forward… explain to those who are waging the agitation.”
Calling the changes inevitable, Modi said, “If not today, then tomorrow whosoever is here, they will have to do them. Today I have done it. Gaaliyan mere khaate mein jaane do (Let me bear the abuses). But join me in this good effort. Bura ho mere khaate mein, achcha ho aapke khaate mein (Let me face the brunt of the anger, let the blessings go to you). But let’s march together.”
The PM said the government has been constantly talking to the farmers… “and there has been no tension so far”. “The process of understanding each other’s position is on… We have been requesting those who are agitating… yes it is your right to protest, but the way elders are sitting there, it is not good. You send them back, call off the agitation and together we can sit and talk to find a way out. Raasta khule hain (Our doors are open)… I repeat this message from the forum of Parliament.”
Modi also said time was quickly lapsing for Indian farmers to benefit from the reforms. “We should not waste this time. We should move forward and not take the country backwards. Be it Treasury, the Opposition or the agitating colleagues, we should give reforms a chance and see whether these changes are beneficial. Koi kami ho usko theek karenge, aur kahin dhilai hai toh usko kasenge (We will correct any shortcomings, tighten any loose ends).”
“I assure that we will modernise the markets more and make them more competitive. And not just that, MSP was there, MSP is there, MSP will remain. And the rations which are given to over 80 crore people at lower rates, those will also continue. So don’t create confusion,” he said.
The PM also detailed the schemes for farmers by his government, like expansion of the crop insurance scheme, introduction of the pension scheme and programmes like Kisan Rail and Kisan Udaan.
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