CHANDIGARH: Reiterating that the Farm Laws were anti-farmer and were introduced without any discussion with the stakeholders, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Tuesday said the unity showcased by the farmers through the Bharat Bandh had underscored the need for repeal of the laws, followed by a detailed discussion on agricultural reforms.
The Chief Minister asked why the Centre could not heed the demands of the farmers, agitating across the country, to scrap these laws and hold fresh talks with all stakeholders. “Had I been in their place I would not have taken a minute to accept my mistake and revoke the laws,” he said.
Asserting that the whole country was with the farmers in their pain and in their fight for survival, Captain Amarinder said the Centre should allow the existing system to continue instead of scrapping the Arhtiya and Mandi system, as the Farm Laws were designed to do. “Why are they doing away with it? They should let the farmers decide what they want,” he said, adding that nobody was stopping private players from purchasing but it could not be allowed at the cost of the well-established system which had stood the farmers in good stead all these decades.
The Chief Minister further demanded to know why the Government of India was not willing to give legitimacy to MSP, if their assertion of not abolishing it was sincere. “MSP is our right,” he said, adding that “if MSP is not guaranteed and another political party, apart from the Congress and the BJP, which is promising to conform with the support price, comes to power at the Centre, then who will take the responsibility of the farmers getting their minimum due?”. He pointed out that the foodgrains bought at MSP were pushed into the PDS to feed the country’s poor and all that would end if MSP goes.
There was no reason why the Centre could not listen to the farmers, who were braving the cold, and send them home happily after resolving their concerns, said Captain Amarinder. This was what he had told Union Home Minister Amit Shah too, he said, adding that he urged Shah to do everything possible to resolve the concerns of the poor farmers in their interest, and also in the interest of India’s security.
Categorically rejecting BJP’s allegation that the Congress manifesto had also talked to scrapping the APMC Act, the Chief Minister said his party or the Dr Manmohan Singh government never said the existing system should be discontinued. The Congress manifesto spoke about modernisation and not about doing away with what we have, he said. Making it clear that nobody was against private players, the Chief Minister pointed out that he was even now in talks with the UAE for supply for wheat and rice, and the country wanted to create storage facilities in India, including Punjab. In fact, even in his last tenure as CM, he tried to launch the farm-to-fork programme to promote private investment in agriculture related fields like storage, cold chain, food processing etc within the existing system but the Akalis later shelved it.
Declaring himself to be upset by Government of India’s move to dump Punjab and its farmers after making use of them when the nation needed them, the Chief Minister said that the country might have become self-sufficient for now but could not ignore the possibility of shortages again in the future. “When they needed us they used us, and now when other states have started producing wheat and paddy too, they are dropping us,” he remarked, adding that ending the Mandi system would deprive Punjab of the much-needed funds for rural development.
The Chief Minister appealed to the Centre not to write off Punjab’s agricultural prowess. “Crises will come with population growing, and next year is being predicted as a drought year…the country needs us, as we proved even during Covid times when we sent out 50 trains a day to feed the poor,” he noted, urging the Government of India not to be short-sighted. “India’s food problems are not going to end…let us be the producers of your food,” he added.
He reiterated that Punjab was not consulted on the issue, Captain Amarinder said while the first meeting of the reforms committee was held before the state was incorporated as a member, the second meeting discussed only financial issues and was attended by Manpreet Badal, and at the third meeting the secretaries were informed that decisions had been taken.
The fact was that it was the Akalis who were party to the black farm laws, said the Chief Minister, adding that while Harsimrat was part of the union cabinet that approved the ordinances, Sukhbir Badal took a wishy-washy stand at the first all-party meeting he convened on the issue and did not bother to attend the second one. In the process of wanting to keep both the Central Government and the farmers happy, they ended up making everyone unhappy, he added.
Agriculture being a state subject, the Modi government should have held discussions with all stakeholders before bringing in these laws and not bulldozed them through Parliament, said the Chief Minister. In fact, he said, farmers from all states should have been consulted, since each state has its own problems. Instead, the Centre did not even bother to consult Punjab, which is India’s food bowl, he remarked.