Updated: February 6, 2021 9:27:11 am
Signalling that the government is ready to amend the three agriculture laws at the centre of protests by farmer unions, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told Parliament Friday that he had made such a suggestion to the delegation of farmers while making clear that this should not mean that there was a “mistake in the laws”.
Defending the laws, Tomar, while participating in a Rajya Sabha discussion on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address, said the protest against the laws was an issue in “only one state” where people had become “victims of misunderstanding”, and this had become a “burning issue”.
Most farmer unions, camping at the gates of Delhi to protest against the laws, are from Punjab, and their leaders, until the negotiations broke down last month, had been in talks with the government team led by Tomar.
He targeted the Congress for opposing the laws for the sake of politics – a remark that he made was expunged from the records later.
On his talks with the farmers, the Minister said: “We made efforts to give them proposal after proposal. But at the same time I also said that if the government is ready to amend any law, it should not mean that there’s a mistake in the farm law.”
“The farmers are agitating. People of one state are victims of misunderstanding. This is an issue in only one state. Farmers were misled by being told that these laws will take away their land… Tell me one provision in the contract farming Act about this,” he said.
He said he had repeatedly asked the farmers which provision in the laws was “black” since these were being called “black laws”.
“I want to tell you that I asked the farmer unions: what is black in the laws, so that I can try to correct it.”
He said he had heard the speeches of the Opposition members very carefully, and while most said the law was bad and should be repealed, they too never specified which provisions in the laws were against farmers.
“Therefore, I want to ask: Which provision of the contract farming Act gives the power to a trader to take away the land of farmers? But people are being misled that their land will be taken away… A farmer can come out of the contract under this Act at any time, but a trader cannot go away without paying the money under this Act,” he said.
Justifying the provisions of the farm laws, Tomar said: “We enacted the Trade Act (The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020). The Trade Act provided that the area outside the APMC would be the trade area. It can be a farmer’s house, it can also be a farmer’s warehouse, or it can be his farm. Our Act allows a farmer to sell his produce to any person, at any place, at any cost.”
“If there is any trade outside the APMC, then it will neither be taxed by the state nor taxed by the Centre. State governments levy the tax (on transactions) within the APMC. There is an Act of the central government outside the APMC. The central government’s Act abolishes tax whereas under the Acts of the state governments, payment of tax is required,” he said.
“So, I want to ask the farmers, especially the farmers of Punjab because they have a slightly different situation there — the commission of arhatiyas is different, everything else is different. While we have exempted (transactions) from tax, the state government is levying tax. So, the agitation should be held against the person who is collecting taxes or against the one who is making it tax-free (transactions)? Lekin desh mein ulti Ganga bah rahi hai. (But what is happening is the opposite),” Tomar said..
“I want to tell the farmers that the Government of India, led by Narendra Modi, is fully committed to the farmers…We have constantly tried to honour the farmer movement. We held talks with them 12 times. We did not utter a word about them here and there. (We) discussed with great sensitivity. We told them that please draw our attention to provisions which have errors.”
“We even identified some points and told them that it seems that you are doubtful that the APMCs will end. So, we considered it and told them that the APMC will not end,” he said.
Tomar also compared provisions of the contract farming Act of Punjab with that of the Centre. He said while the Punjab Act provides a jail term for farmers violating the contract, the Centre’s Act penalises the traders.
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