Farmers raise slogans during an ongoing protest outside the residence of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal against three agriculture-related bills, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.
Farmers raise slogans during an ongoing protest outside the residence of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal against three agriculture-related bills, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.
PTI

The ruling BJP and the opposition Congress continued to clash over the three agricultural bills for what the critics of the government allege will hurt the farmers of the country.

Thousands of farmers in Punjab, Haryana and several other states have been staging protests even since the government on Monday introduced these Bills in the Lok Sabha on the opening day of the Monsoon Session.

Lok Sabha has passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, which seek to promote barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade in agricultural produce.

These will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha.

They will replace three ordinances - The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 to promote barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade in agriculture produce; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020 to engage with processors, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers, exporters; and Amendment to the Essential Commodities Act to liberalize regulatory environment for farmers - promulgated on June 5.

Here is what the opposition Congress has said on the bills:

The Congress on Friday accused the government of trying to end minimum support price (MSP) through three new farm bills and asked political parties to decide with whom they want to stand.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said farmers have lost faith in the Modi government as there is a difference between its deeds and actions.

This government wants to benefit its "friends" by attacking the lives and livelihood of farmers, he said.

In a tweet in Hindi, Gandhi said, "Farmers have lost faith in the Modi government as there has been a difference in their deeds and actions right from the start - demonetisation, wrong GST and a heavy tax on diesel." He also said that "awakened farmers know that with the agriculture bills, the Modi government will increase trade of its 'friends' and will attack the livelihood of farmers".

Congress leader P Chidambaram said the laws passed by the government scuttle the MSP principle and undermine public procurement.

Chidambaram said the three pillars of food security are MSP, public procurement and Public Distribution System.

"The Farm Bills of the Modi government undermine the three pillars. The laws sought to be passed by the Modi government scuttle the MSP principle and undermine Public Procurement," he said in a series of tweets.

"Will the TV anchors please point out the clause in the Farm Bills that stipulates that the price that the farmer will get from the purchaser "shall not be less than the MSP"? Will the TV anchors highlight the fact that the Congress Manifesto promised to create thousands of Farmers' Markets in small towns and large villages," the Congress leader said.

Chidambaram said he was disappointed with BJP spokespersons' distortion of the Congress manifesto statement on APMC laws.

"Our Manifesto promised that we will create thousands of Farmers' Markets in small towns and large villages. Once that is accomplished, APMC laws can be changed. The way to liberalise agricultural marketing is to create more accessible markets and choice for the farmer. There will be rules to regulate such markets," he said.

The former finance minister said the APMC system is indeed a safety net for the farmer but it is a restricted market that is not accessible to millions of farmers.

"We need to enlarge the market for agriculture produce while preserving the 'safety net' principle through MSP and public procurement," he said.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said this fight has now become "the battle of truth" like the Mahabharata. Here the Modi government is like the "Kauravas" and the farmers are the "Pandavas", he said.

He said various political parties will now have to decide whether they stand with the "Kauravas" or the "Pandavas" in this "dharam yudh" (battle of truth).

Surjewala told reporters that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP were trying to mislead farmers and the people on the farm legislations which were "anti-farmer" and sought to "kill" farming.

"The prime minister is misleading the people and is anti-farmer. By bringing these "black laws", the PM is attacking the farm sector and the lives and livelihood of farmers. PM Modi is trying to make farmers indebted to a select few of PM's crony friends," he said.

The BJP and Modi want to hand over the fate of farmers and farm labourers into the hands of a few crony capitalists, the spokesperson alleged.

"The armies are now standing against each other, with the Congress standing with the 'Pandavas', who are the farmers, and against the Modi government and the BJP which are the 'Kauravas'," Surjewala said.

The Congress leader also asked whether the Food Corporation of India would pay MSP to farmers when mandis (wholesale markets) are not there. Farmers with small land holdings don't have the money even to pay bus fares, how will they sell their produce in far-flung areas, as sought by these bills, Surejwala said.

"Who and to whom would you give MSP to? Will the FCI go to the farmer's fields to give MSP," he asked.

To a question on the Congress promising to abolish the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act in its manifesto, spokesperson Surjewala said an attempt is being made to mislead people and farmers.

BJP's response to criticism

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday stoutly defended farm sector reform bills, asserting that they will act as a "protection shield" for farmers and accused those opposing the measures of standing with middlemen and "deceiving" and "lying" to peasants.

Modi refuted their criticism, saying these laws will unshackle farmers by allowing them to sell their produce anywhere by negotiating a better price.

He asserted that the government purchase of farm produce will remain, adding that the mechanism of minimum support price will continue in the same way it always has.

At a virtual event to launch several rail projects in Bihar, Modi said his government is committed to providing farmers appropriate price through the MSP, and asserted that no government has done as much for the farming community as the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in its six years in power since 2014.

Farmers of the country are aware and can see who are standing with middlemen, who "pocketed"profits meant for them, and opposing new opportunities being provided for them through these measures, he said.

The prime minister said the Congress had also promised in its manifesto what his government has now done through these bills, as he attacked the opposition party for fanning protests against these proposed legislations.

Without naming it, he launched a blistering attack on the Congress, saying those who remained in power for decades are trying to "mislead" farmers and "lying" to them on the agriculture bills.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah called the proposed legislations a path-breaking move of the Modi government, saying these will free the farmers from the clutches of middlemen.

Expressing gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the passage of the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 as well as the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, Shah said the passage of the landmark agricultural reform Bills in the Lok Sabha on Thursday is an "unprecedented" step in this direction.

In a series of tweets, Shah said these Bills will help farmers overcome obstacles as well as provide them with new avenues to sell their produce, which will increase their incomes.

"These historic and important agricultural reforms of the Modi government will bring a positive transformation in the lives of farmers and make them self-reliant. I convey my heartfelt gratitude to the Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on the passage of these Bills."

(With agencies)

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