Striking down key provisions of the Centre’s new farm laws, and barring the sale and purchase of wheat or paddy below the MSP, almost all political parties in the Punjab Assembly cut across party lines Tuesday to pass four new state farm Bills, including three amendment Bills, to counter the central laws cleared last month.
Except for the two BJP MLAs — Arun Sood from Fazilka and Dinesh Singh from Sujanpur, who were absent — representatives of all other parties, including Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) voted in favour of the state Bills and a resolution against the central laws.
What the Bills really mean
Apart from the Governor, the Punjab government's new farm Bills need the assent of the President since they seek to amend laws passed by the central government. If not, they can at best serve as a symbolic political statement against the Centre's farm laws.
The move comes as a relief for the state government led by Capt Amarinder Singh after intense pressure from the Opposition SAD after it quit the NDA government at the Centre over the farm laws that triggered widespread protests in the state.
The state Bills will now have to gain the assent of Punjab Governor V P S Badore, and the President. Speaking to reporters after he had led all the MLAs to Raj Bhavan to submit the House resolution, the Chief Minister said that if the Governor does not give his assent to the Bills, his government would seek legal recourse.
Asked about the possibility of the Centre imposing President’s Rule in the state, Amarinder said: “Let’s wait and see, we will move step by step. But if the situation comes to such a pass, the Centre won’t have to dismiss me, I am carrying my resignation in my pocket and will give it willingly.”
Responding to Punjab’s move, Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar said the Bills would be examined once they come to the Centre. “It has come to my knowledge that the Punjab Assembly has passed a law in relation to the Agricultural Reform Acts. When these laws come to the Centre, the Government of India will examine and take action in the interest of farmers,” Tomar said in a statement.
Under Article 254(2) of the Constitution, a state can make changes to a central legislation on a subject on the concurrent list provided its law gets Presidential assent. Earlier, striking a combative note in the Assembly, Amarinder said: “I am not afraid of resigning. I am not afraid of my government being dismissed. But I will not let farmers suffer or be ruined.”
The Chief Minister pointed out that he had chosen to quit at the time of Operation Blue Star in 1984 instead of accepting or endorsing “the assault on Sikh ethos” at the Golden Temple.
The key provisions in the new state Bills are:
- The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks to ensure that sale and purchase of wheat or paddy is not allowed below MSP. If any person or company or corporate house compels or exerts pressure on a farmer to enter into a contract at a price below MSP, it shall be deemed as an offence punishable with a prison term of not less than three years and a fine.
- The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Special Provisionsand Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020 makes it mandatory for those entering into contract farming with farmers to pay the MSP or a price over the MSP. Violators face jail terms of three years.
- The Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020 specifies that no punitive action shall be taken against any person for violating provisions of the central Act, and all notices issued by the central government under its provisions shall be deemed suspended.
Besides, The Code of Civil Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020 provides relief to farmers against attachment of land up to 2.5 acres. The state Bills also provide for prevention of hoarding and black-marketing of food grains. Seeking the immediate annulment of the Centre’s laws, the House also sought a new Ordinance to protect the MSP and continued procurement by the central government.
The state Bills seek to amend The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, and The Code of Civil Procedure.
According to the Chief Minister, the aim is to counter the “disastrous effect” of the Centre’s “legislation by subterfuge”.
In the Assembly, the BJP came in for sharp attack from the Congress over the absence of its two MLAs. Speaking during the debate on the resolution against the Centre’s laws, Minister for Jails Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa described the BJP MLAs as “gaddar” (traitors).
“This is the time when Punjab needs its sons to come together as one to fight for the rights of its farmers. And these people have decided to remain absent. They should be boycotted,” said Randhawa. The Chief Minister informed the House that he had sought time from the President to raise Punjab’s concerns on the
Centre’s laws and seek his intervention to protect farmers. Cautioning the Centre against letting the “situation get out of hand”, Amarinder said that if the farm laws are not revoked, “angry youth can come out on the streets to join the farmers, leading to chaos”.
“The way things are going at present, the situation has the potential to disturb the peaceful atmosphere… Both China and Pakistan will collude and try to take advantage of any disruption of the state’s peace, which would pose a serious threat to national security,” he said.
When SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia pointed out that securing assent from the Governor and the President was key to ensure passage of the Bills, Amarinder said: “We have our legal experts to take it forward in courts. The same thing had happened with our water agreements termination Act and we had gone to the courts.”
The Chief Minister, meanwhile, reiterated his appeal to protesting farmers’ unions in the state to allow movement of trains for the transportation of coal, urea and foodgrains, pointing out that the government had already lost Rs 40,000 crore in revenue. “We have stood with you, now it is your turn to stand with us,” he said.
(With Harikishan Sharma/Delhi)
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