In a conciliatory gesture, the Centre on Wednesday agreed to roll back two much-needed farm sector reforms. Both may be minor only relative to the three legislations which have now caused the prosperous Punjab farmers to picket the highways leading into the national capital but their significance to a clean environment and an equitable cost-sharing for electricity consumption cannot be minimised.
Stubble-burning in agricultural fields around Diwali every year is the main cause for dangerous levels of air pollution in the capital and the nearby regions. In preparing the fields for wheat sowing, farmers invariably burn paddy husk, contributing significantly to the already polluted air in the region due to the seasonal change of weather and several other factors.
Since the State and Central governments had devised a scheme of incentives for putting the same stubble to productive uses, the ban on stubble-burning was an obvious next step. But the farmers’ unions on Wednesday succeeded in getting the government to drop the penal provisions, which prescribed monetary fines and prison terms for those defying the ban. Now, the national capital can brace itself for a bigger blanket of dark sooty air at the outset of next winter as a result. This, then, is what the supporters of the farm stir had actually wished for. Surrender to unreason and to retrograde farm practices is at the core of the farm unions’ demands.
The other concession on Wednesday concerned the proposed amendment in the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020. It, among other things, sought to transfer subsidy directly to the targeted consumers rather than route it through state electricity boards. The objective was to improve the financial state of the electricity boards, which are perennially under huge debts due to high costs of production and distribution of power and the provision of unlimited free power to the farm sector. This is a recipe for bankruptcy of state electricity boards. Besides, paying consumers are made to bear the burden of free power. Suspecting that the proposed amendment would lead to an increase in power tariffs, the farmers’ unions forced the government to abandon the move. Yet, the farmers insisted that the core demand for the repeal of the three reform measures was non-negotiable.
The next round of talks, scheduled for January 4, is set to take up the demand for the scrapping of the legislations. Given their intransigence in the face of universally endorsed progressive measures aimed at their own welfare, we are saddened by the conduct of the so-called liberal-leftist elements. Instead of using their influence to make them see reason, they are actually egging the farmers on, on the path of confrontation. We can understand the opposition parties playing a negative role, but why other self-avowedly independent observers should do so is most worrying. Are they too so blinded by the hatred of Narendra Modi that they have jettisoned wider national interests, which cries out for a long overdue reform of the farm sector.
Meanwhile, the attack and vandalism in Punjab against the mobile towers of Reliance Jio has blown into a law and order issue. Having instigated the anti-Centre protests, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh now finds it hard to contain the lawlessness by friendly farmers, who are said to have damaged some 1,600 Jio mobile towers. In addition, according to Reliance, their retail outlets and petrol pumps too had been vandalised.
The attacks are clearly a handiwork of those who have fallen prey to the false propaganda that the objective of reforms was to help 'Ambani and Adani' to take over their farm lands. Extensive damage to telecom towers of Reliance Jio has disrupted its services in large parts of Punjab. Belatedly, the state government has ordered the police to take stern action against those damaging the essential infrastructure but the silence of the Opposition leaders, who are fuelling anti-business sentiment for their own selfish interests, is ominous. Socio-economic progress is held hostage to partisan interests of a few frustrated opposition leaders. They ought to be isolated further.