Burying the hatchet, Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar and state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa on Thursday came together for a sit-in outside Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s residence, along with party MLAs, for demanding immediate lifting of wheat from grain markets and release of payment to farmers.
Jakhar, who on Wednesday gave a call for the sit-in, was joined by Bajwa, who has announced a Rail Roko (train blockade) on May 2. The faction-ridden party put up a united front as the protest was attended by a majority of Congress MLAs, including those owing allegiance to former Punjab CM and deputy leader of the party in Lok Sabha, Capt Amarinder Singh.
Later, Jakhar and Bajwa submitted a memorandum to Badal that said, “Punjab farmers and its entire agrarian class have been pushed into an ignoble state under the Akali-BJP regime.
Instead of extending a helping hand to farmers, the CM, deputy CM and the cabinet ministers have shown no sensitivity to reach out to them in their hour of crisis. The procurement process in Punjab started on April 10 and the farmers are finding it difficult to sell their produce even after more than 10 days exposing them to financial exploitation by intermediaries, who coerce them to sell their produce at a price lower than the MSP.”
It said the process of assessment of crop losses through administrative machinery is marred by red tape, adding that farmers are being harassed by revenue administrative structure comprising patwari and kanungo.
The party demanded that all such farmers whose crop has been damaged be paid a compensation of Rs 20,000 per acre by the state government in addition to Rs 4,880 per acre compensation under the state disaster relief fund.
The opposition also sought relief for farmers holding lesser than five acres of land from paying their household electricity bill for one year. The memorandum said the government should immediately bring about a policy of loan waiver for small and marginal farmers of Punjab. The party also demanded an explanation as to why the wheat seed scam which surfaced in 2010-11 was yet to reach its logical conclusion. “And now a BT seed scam has surfaced in which an Akali minister was named for Rs 60 lakh fraud. The Congress demands handing over of this case to the CBI as it will not only save farmers from getting trapped by charlatan BT companies, but will also deter companies from exploiting farmers,” it added.
The chief minister, who had cut short his trip to Delhi to personally welcome and meet opposition legislators at his residence, solicited the cooperation of the opposition to resolve the crisis amicably. “It is no time to demonstrate one-upmanship and gain brownie points by raking up the farmers’ issue just to gain cheap popularity in the media,” he said.
He acknowledged that unseasonal rains and hailstorm had caused extensive damage to the wheat crop, saying it was not appropriate to blame the state government for its “failure” on the procurement front. Badal said he was in constant touch with all union ministers concerned and, above all, the Prime Minister, to resolve the issue at the earliest and reiterated his firm commitment to lift every grain of the farmers’ yield. Badal said the entire procurement process would be completed at the earliest and the timely payment of the farmers’ produce would be ensured.