Congress MP P Chidambaram, a former Finance Minister, has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP spokespersons of “deliberately and maliciously” distorting the Congress’ 2019 manifesto on agricultural reforms.
The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the controversial Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill. The PM has hailed these measures as revolutionary and said these measures would shield the farmers against middlemen and broaden the scope of farmers to sell their produce.
Chidambarm’s remarks came following the exit of Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the Union cabinet.
On Friday, suspended Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha had pointed out that the opposition party had also proposed the abolition of the Agricultural Market Produce Committees (APMC) Act ahead of Lok Sabha elections last year.
One of the bills passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday does just that — the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill gives farmers the choice to sell their produce at competitive prices anywhere in the country.
However, Chidambaram said the Congress would have ensured “multiple accessible markets” for farmers looking to sell their produce before scrapping the APMC Act.
“Once that was accomplished, the Congress manifesto promise of repealing APMC Act and making trade in agricultural produce free would have been a natural sequel,” he added.
Chidambaram pointed out the manifesto also promised to promote farmers’ companies/organizations to enable access to technology and set up adequate infrastructure in large villages and small towns.
The government, Chidambaram claimed, had “surrendered to the corporates and traders”, pointing to the absence of a clause linking the price farmers would get from private buyers to the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
“Why is such a clause absent?” he asked. “The bills undermine the only regulated market available to the farmer without creating thousands of alternatives,” he said.
“The bills (also) assume perversely that the farmer and the private purchaser have equal bargaining power. They do not. The small farmer will be at the mercy of the private purchaser,” he added.
The government has said the farm bills will help small and marginal farmers. The bills seek to empower farmers through written agreements and farmers can sell their produce at competitive prices anywhere in the country, as per the government.
However, farmers fear this means they will no longer be able to sell at a minimum price (one dictated by the government). Protests have broken out across Punjab and Haryana as the bills are set to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha.
The Harsimrat Kaur Badal had told a news channel on Friday that farmers had conveyed similar concerns to her.