January 30, 2021 4:45:32 am
Underlining that the government is “continuously making efforts to dispel the misunderstanding” over the new agriculture laws, at the centre of farmer protests that have rocked the Capital, President Ram Nath Kovind told Parliament Friday that the Supreme Court has stayed implementation of the laws for the present and the government “respects the decision of the apex court and shall abide by it”.
Addressing the joint sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha at the start of the Budget session of Parliament — Opposition parties boycotted the address to show solidarity with farmers protesting against the new laws — President Kovind also referred to the storming of the Red Fort and vandalism on Republic Day.
“My government has always respected freedom of expression and holding of peaceful agitations in a democratic set-up. However, the recent acts of dishonouring the National Flag and showing disrespect to the auspicious occasion of the Republic Day are unfortunate. While the Constitution gives us the right to freedom of expression, it is also expected that we abide by the laws and rules with equal sincerity.”
The President’s address, which reflects the views of the government, sought to allay apprehensions over the new laws. “My government wants to make it clear that the rights and facilities available under the system prevailing before the enactment of the three new laws are not affected in any way. Rather, through these agricultural reforms, the government has provided new facilities to the farmers and has empowered them.”
With the government seeking to blunt Opposition criticism of the laws, he said: “After extensive consultation, Parliament approved three important farm reform Bills seven months ago, namely, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. The benefits of these three important farm reforms have started reaching more than 10 crore small farmers instantly.”
“Appreciating the advantages that these reforms would bring to the small farmers, several political parties too had, from time to time, expressed their support. The discussions over these farm reforms in every part of the country for over two decades and the demand for these reforms at different fora were also reflected during the deliberations in the House.”
There was a brief disruption during the address when Ravneet Singh Bittu, Congress MP from Punjab, stood up to protest and then walked out, shouting slogans. AAP’s Bhagwant Mann made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the Central Hall, where seats were reserved only for leaders of parties and chairpersons of committees. Hanuman Beniwal of Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), which exited the NDA over the farm laws, also protested. Beniwal joined MPs of SAD, another former ally of the BJP, in the protests.
Listing the initiatives of the government, the President, in his address, focused on farmers and agriculture.
“Our goal of an Atmanirbhar Bharat will be further strengthened by self-reliance in agriculture… My government decided to implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee report and increased the MSP to at least 1.5 times of the cost of production. Today, my government is not only purchasing record quantities at the MSP, but is also increasing the number of procurement centres,” he said.
“Today, the food grain availability in the country is at a record high. In 2008-09, the food grain production in the country was 234 million tonnes, whereas in 2019-20, the production has increased to 296 million tonnes. During the same period, the production of fruits and vegetables has also increased from 215 million tonnes to 320 million tonnes,” he said.
“In the agricultural sector, the need of the hour is to focus our attention on the small and marginal farmers who own only 1 or 2 hectares of land. More than 80% of the farmers in the country numbering over 10 crore fall under this category. My government accords priority to these small and marginal farmers too. In order to provide expenditure support to these farmers, almost Rs 1,13,000 crore have been directly transferred to their bank accounts under Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi. Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has also benefited small farmers of this country. Under this scheme in the last 5 years, about Rs 90,000 crore has been paid as compensation to the farmers against a premium of Rs 17,000 crore.”
“The mission for setting up 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations by bringing together small farmers of the country is also an impactful step. This has ensured access of small farmers to better technology, additional credit, post-harvesting processing and marketing facilities and insurance coverage during natural calamities, on the same footing as the rich farmers. This has also provided an alternative to farmers for securing remunerative prices for their produce and generating greater savings,” he said.
There was loud applause when the President referred to the farm laws, their benefits and the “wholehearted support” that the government received for its “development-oriented policy” in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Only a few weeks back, elections to District Councils in Jammu and Kashmir were held successfully for the first time after Independence. Large scale participation of voters has shown that Jammu and Kashmir is forging ahead towards a new democratic future at a rapid pace. Grant of new entitlements have empowered the people of the region,” he said.
On the Covid-19 pandemic, he praised the government for its “timely and calibrated decisions” which ensured “we were able to save lives of lakhs of our countrymen”. He pointed out that the number of new coronavirus cases was going down rapidly in the country. Paying tribute to those who succumbed to the virus, he remembered former President Pranab Mukherjee who passed away during the pandemic and six MPs who lost their lives.
Hailing the vaccination drive, he said it was a matter of pride that India is running the biggest vaccination drive in the world and shouldering the responsibility of providing vaccines to several other nations.
He also referred to the Chinese aggression on the Line of Actual Control, and said the government is vigilant and fully committed to protecting the country’s interests. Additional forces have been deployed to safeguard India’s sovereignty, he said. He paid tribute to the 20 soldiers who lost their lives in the Galwan Valley clash with Chinese troops in June 2020.
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